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The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based largest automotive retailer AutoNation Inc. (AN - Analyst Report) recorded 15% year-over-year increase in sales to 27,958 vehicles in December 2012. The growth was mainly attributable to strong sales of imported vehicles.

Sales in the Domestic segment went up 11% to 8,415 vehicles. The segment comprises retail automotive franchises that sell vehicles manufactured by Ford Motor Co. (F - Analyst Report), General Motors Company (GM - Analyst Report) and Chrysler.

Sales in the Import segment escalated 18% to 13,450 vehicles. The segment covers retail automotive franchises that sell vehicles manufactured by Toyota Motor Corp. (TM - Analyst Report), Honda Motor Co. (HMC - Analyst Report), and Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY).

Sales in the Premium Luxury segment increased 14% to 6,093 vehicles during the month. The segment consists of retail automotive franchises selling vehicles manufactured by Daimler AG’s (DDAIF) Mercedes Benz, BMW and Lexus.

On daily selling rate basis, the company’s retail new vehicle unit sales improved 19% in December 2012. December 2012 had 26 selling days compared with 27 selling days a year ago.

Last year, AutoNation recorded a 13% increase in new vehicle sales to 20,958 units in October and 21% growth in sales to 22,571 units in November. The company registered nearly 16% increase in new vehicle sales in the fourth quarter of 2012. Domestic segment sales improved 10%, Import segment sales jumped 20% and Premium Luxury segment sales climbed 17% in the quarter.

AutoNation witnessed a 20% improvement in new vehicle sales in the full year 2012. Domestic segment sales went up 14%, Import segment sales jumped 27% and Premium Luxury segment sales climbed 13% in the year.

Auto sales in the U.S. grew 9% to 1.4 million vehicles in December last year and 13.4% to 14.5 million vehicles in the full year. Improving consumer confidence, falling unemployment rate and improvement in home sales and prices were mainly responsible for the remarkable improvement in sales.

Sales were also boosted by strong pent-up demand owing to the aging vehicles (average age of a car reached 11 years in the U.S.) and replacement needs for damaged vehicles from Hurricane Sandy. Banks also supported the sales growth by providing greater access to loans with lower interest rates.

Recently, AutoNation completed the previously announced acquisitions of Boardwalk Audi, Boardwalk Porsche, Boardwalk Volkswagen, McKinney Volkswagen, Park Cities Volkswagen, and Spring Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram. With this, the company will own and operate 50 franchises in Texas. Currently, it retains a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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