Chrysler Group closed out the year in style, with its 45th consecutive month of year-over-year sales and the news that Fiat SpA would acquire the remaining share of Chrysler from the United Auto Workers retiree healthcare trust.

This news was generally welcomed, but some analysts had to raise their caution flags, mostly due to Fiat’s current problems and a concern about Chrysler's ability to keep its momentum.

What’s strange is that the same analysts are recommending that investors stock up on GM shares.

Remembering that those who fail history are condemned to repeat it, a comparison of the results posted by Chrysler, Ford and GM over the past four years is warranted. The best way to compare results is to compare sales growth and market share. June 2009 was the first month in which sales results for the new Chrysler Group were reported, which makes it a fair baseline.

Since Chrysler has added Fiat while Ford and GM have shed brands like cats shed fur, it’s only reasonable to compare the brands that have remained constant, i.e., Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram for Chrysler Group; Ford and Lincoln for Ford Motor Company; and Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC for General Motors. As can be seen from the figures below, not only has Chrysler's growth far exceeded growth at either Ford or GM, Chrysler has added market share while the others have lost it. In fact, Chrysler's market share growth over the past four years has been larger than any other automaker.
Sales VolumeMarket Share
CompanyJune 2009Dec. 2013ChangeJune 2009Dec. 2013Change
Chrysler68,297157,262230.3%8.3%11.6%+3.3 points
Ford140,499216,592154.2%17.0%15.9%-1.1 points
GM141,668230,157162.5%18.0%16.9%-1.1 points
Market share figures adjusted for continuing brands
Much of Chrysler's achievement has been accomplished by simply making inherited products better — by avoiding the bad habits of Chrysler's previous owners and paying attention to customer perceptions of quality and engineering. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of that trend going away.

As the fine print says on the prospectus, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but Chrysler looks good from this perspective.

There are some actual headwinds out there, however. Growth in the U.S. light vehicle market slowed significantly in 2013, down to 7.5% from double digits in each of the preceding three years. The forces that have driven strong growth since 2009, including pent-up demand, are dissipating. It won't take much to hit the 16-million-sale mark in 2014 but it will likely take a significant improvement in the economy and consumer outlook to restore the kind of figures seen in the early years of the 21st Century.

Perhaps most important is improving the economic prospects of the millennials. After trying to pass their lack of participation in the new vehicle market off as a preference for electronic socialization, it is finally being admitted that they just don't have the money. The jobs they should be getting aren’t opening up or no longer exist, and if this remains uncorrected, it could pose serious problems for an auto industry that has its sights set on 20 million annual sales.

December’s comparatively weak performance is being blamed on the weather and an unusually strong November. Perhaps Chrysler customers are made of sterner stuff: Chrysler Group reported the most monthly growth of the Detroit automakers and was second to Ford in annual sales growth.

The Ram pickup had a strong month and year, with the largest gains of any full-size pickup as it cut the gap between it and the Chevy Silverado from 20,488 units in December 2012 to 9,188 units last month. The Ram also had the fourth-highest percentage of sales increase among the 310 light vehicles models reported last Friday.

The Ram ProMaster is ramping up nicely and outsold the Nissan NV and NV200 in December.

We don't know how much effect it had on Ram sales, but the "Farmer" spot that ran during last year's Super Bowl went viral and was the fourth-most-watched spot on YouTube.

The new Jeep Cherokee had another banner month, hitting the No. 11 spot among light trucks and the No. 23 spot in the combined rankings. Among Chrysler Group products, only the Grand Cherokee and Ram pickup had more sales in December. Despite a 3.5% shortfall in December, the Grand Cherokee remains a sales powerhouse and the Wrangler is still the leading true SUV on the market. Compass and Patriot sales were up: the Patriot came though with the largest gain of any Jeep model for the month and all of Jeep's current lines beat their full-year figures from 2012. Jeep brought home the largest sales gain of any major brand in December and was among the top five brands, regardless of size. Jeep also set a second consecutive worldwide sales record for the year.

The excellent new EcoDiesel engine available in the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee was named to Ward's Top Ten Best Engines for 2014. The new Fiat 500e's electric drive also made the list.

Honda took the minivan crown in 2013, outselling the second-place Grand Caravan by nearly 5,000 units and the third-place Town & Country by 6,700 units. The Caravan not only had a 20.7% drop in December sales, it was the only one of the four leading minivans to miss its full-year numbers from 2012. Minivan sales were down 4.0% in 2013 but 77.7% of the 22,470-unit decline was due to the Grand Caravan's 12.3% deficit and the rest was due to the discontinued Volkswagen Routan. Sales of the Nissan Quest, Mazda5 and discontinued Kia Sedona contributed to the shortfall but their volumes were so low the combined total didn't equal the Grand Caravan deficit.

Chrysler Group cars slumped again in December; the Dodge Charger was the only model to beat its numbers from December 2012. Chrysler 200 and 300 combined to make Chrysler the worst-performing domestic brand for the month and the worst-performing Chrysler Group Brand for the year. The Town & Country minivan was the only Chrysler-badged model to finish both December and 2013 in the black.

While Dodge missed its December 2012 numbers it came through with a healthy gain for the year with only the Avenger and Grand Caravan in the red. Durango sales jumped 42.6% in 2013 thanks to the addition of features like third-row seating.

The Dart has to be a disappointment. Only the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Challenger sold in smaller quantities and it one of the slowest-selling models in a hotly contested segment that accounts for nearly one in four of every passenger car sold. While compacts stumbled in December, full-year growth was still ahead of the total market.

The Dart's issues have been well-documented and Chrysler has been working to address them. However, the Dart's pricing remains uncompetitive for online shoppers, especially those looking to lease. Whatever traction Chrysler may have thought the just-under-$16,000-price would gain them doesn't seem to have translated into an actual advantage, especially now that all trim levels of the Dart's competition have air-conditioning as standard and Chrysler has raised the price of the package that includes it for the Dart SE.
Compact Segment Sales: December and Calendar Year 2013
CarDec. 2013Dec. 2012Change20132012Change
Honda Civic29,00033,118-12.4%336,180317,9095.7%
Toyota Corolla22,56224,679-8.6%302,180290,9473.9%
Chevy Cruze18,16221,230-14.5%248,224237,7584.4%
Hyundai Elantra21,69219,02414.0%247,912202,03422.7%
Ford Focus15,56922,604-31.1%234,570245,922-4.6%
VW Jetta13,71913,1024.7%141,259146,478-3.6%
Nissan Sentra10,7997,75539.3%129,143106,39521.4%
Dodge Dart5,4496,105-10.7%83,38825,304229.5%
Kia Forte4,3024,2760.6%66,14675,681-12.6%
Total Sales141,254151,893-7.0%1,789,0021,648,4288.5%
One very positive note for Chrysler's bottom line is that Ford and General Motors spent more on incentives in December, both as a dollar amount and as a percentage of purchase price. According to estimates provided by TrueCar.com, Chrysler's average incentive was $2,954 in December, down 9.4% from December 2012 and more than $700 less than the average GM payout.

Comparing rankings from 2012 to last year, more than half of all Chrysler vehicles moved up. The Jeep Cherokee advanced 12 spots from November 2013 to December, moving into the top ten percent, while the Dodge Charger moved up 15 spots from November and 12 spots from December 2012. While its monthly performance was up-and-down, the Dodge Durango advanced 19 spots in the annual rankings.
CHRYSLER VEHICLE RANKING BY SALES VOLUME
VehicleDec 2013Nov 2013Dec 2012 All 2013All 2012
Ram Pickup34557
Jeep Grand Cherokee1819192223
Jeep Cherokee2335N/A128N/A
Jeep Wrangler3329322727
Dodge Grand Caravan3438233428
Dodge Charger4055525053
Chrysler Town & Country4132443742
Dodge Journey5674555857
Jeep Patriot6875836668
Chrysler 2007268463632
Dodge Dart74596660124
Dodge Durango7769777493
Dodge Avenger8078595248
Chrysler 3008192627764
Jeep Compass102991088496
Dodge Challenger115114948690
Fiat 5001321279810788
Ram ProMaster143185N/A239N/A
Fiat 500L162182N/A204N/A
Ram Cargo van202187203194215
SRT Viper260259N/A270289
Manufacturers reported sales for 310 light vehicle models in December