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Detroit's Big 3 gained market share in 2011

Detroit's automakers collectively gained share for the first time in decades, but can their momentum continue?

Reversing a decades-old slide, all three Detroit automakers gained market share last year in the United States.

For the first time since 1988, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors each saw their slice of the automotive pie increase in their home market, even as several import brands saw record breaking sales.

Collectively, the three Michigan-based automakers accounted for approximately 47.1 percent of the overall U.S. market, an increase from last year's 45.2 percent share.

GM delivered about 2.5 million cars, which gave it a roughly 19.6 percent share in the passenger car industry. Ford, with 2.1 million deliveries, checked in at about 16.8 percent. Chrysler, meanwhile, was the smallest of the Detroit automakers with a little under 1.4 million sales, or 10.7 percent of the market.

The breakdown
Of course, there's more to the story than just numbers. Ford and General Motors are significantly smaller today than they were a year before ago, when GM dealers still had eight brands under their umbrellas and Ford dealers had four. In 2010, GM wrapped up the closure of its Hummer, Pontiac and Saturn brands, as well as the sale of its Saab unit, while Ford sold off Volvo and closed Mercury. That left both automakers with half as many divisions to market.

All four of GM's remaining divisions saw sales climb enough to significantly offset what few leftover Hummer, Pontiac and Saturn sales were made in 2010. Chevrolet was buoyed to a 14 percent gain by its Cruze compact and its Equinox crossover; Cadillac lost its DTS and STS models but still climbed 4 percent on its SRX crossover; GMC's Terrain was a runaway success that helped the brand climb 19 percent; and Buick, too, grew 14 percent on its Regal and LaCrosse even though its Lucerne was dropped.

At Ford, the story was a bit murkier. The brand's namesake division climbed 17 percent thanks largely to trucks, SUVs and its subcompact Fiesta. But Lincoln sales were essentially flat and the company lost nearly 100,000 units due to the demise of Mercury.

Chrysler, meanwhile, was the biggest success. With the exception of its Ram pickup trucks, Chrysler's three divisions were full of new or substantially refreshed-for-2011 models. As a result, all of its divisions climbed substantially, with Jeep leading the way at 44 percent. In its first year back in the U.S., Fiat delivered just shy of 20,000 units; that's well off of estimates, which is what likely led to the departure of the brand's CEO, Laura Soave, late last year.

Slicing the pie: The 10 largest automakers in the United States
1. General Motors, 19.6 percent
2. Ford Motor Company, 16.8 percent
3. Toyota, 12.9 percent
4. Chrysler, 10.7 percent
5. Honda, 9 percent
6. Hyundai Group, 8.9 percent
7. Nissan, 8.2 percent
8. Volkswagen, 3.5 percent
9. BMW, 2.4 percent (estimate)
(tie) 10. Daimler, 2.1 percent (estimate)
(tie) 10. Subaru, 2.1 percent

Where did the growth come from?
Certainly, all three Michigan automakers benefitted from new and revised products across their portfolios.

But the March tsunami that crippled production in Japan and left giants Toyota and Honda with limited inventories certainly benefitted the Detroit 3 - not to mention Hyundai and Kia, which had by far their best years ever. Nissan, which was better insulated from the Japanese disaster than its rivals, also posted a banner by selling more than 1 million cars and trucks in this market.

As a result, Toyota's share tumbled to just 12.9 percent from last year's 15.2 percent, while Honda slid to 9 percent from 10.6 percent.

Whether Chrysler, Ford and GM can continue their domestic surge is unclear. All three automakers are in the midst of heavy product roll-outs, but so are Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Kia.