Automakers had a merry December

Forget the shopping mall. Americans were in a car-buying mood in December.

Year-over-year sales increases were recorded at General Motors (up 4.5 percent), Ford Motor (up 10 percent) and Chrysler Group (up 37 percent).

Across the Delaware River in Cherry Hill, Subaru of America also could tout December as its best sales month ever with total vehicle sales of 33,701. That surpassed the "Cash for Clunkers"-fueled month of August 2009 when 28,683 Subarus rolled off lots.

Subaru's December sales were up 26 percent, and the increase broke a seven-month string of lower monthly sales.

For 2011 as a whole, Subaru sold 266,989 vehicles. Its top seller was the Outback model accounting for 104,405 units sold.

Despite those down months, Subaru sales were up 1.2 percent for 2011 -- its fourth straight year of sales growth.

Make no mistake, though, this subsidiary of Japan's Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. remains a niche player in the American market. How small? Last year, GM sold 2.50 million vehicles, Ford 2.15 million and Chrysler 1.37 million. Even South Korea's Kia Motors America outpaced Subaru with 485,492 vehicles sold in 2011.