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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Similar to the overall market, import automakers closed a challenging year on a high note, as their December sales were up double digits from the prior year, according to the American International Automobile Dealers Association.

Citing statistics from Autodata Corp., AIADA officials said that import brands moved 558,680 vehicles during December, a 23.4-percent increase from the prior year and a roughly 34.7-percent upswing from November.

Year-end sales, however, were down 16.2 percent at approximately 5.82 million. 

Breaking it down, the import brand showing the largest increase in full-year sales was Subaru, which moved ahead 15.4 percent. Kia climbed 9.8 percent and Hyundai jumped 8.3 percent, being the only other imports to show full-year improvements. 

In December, however, several brands showed double-digit improvements, including Kia (up 43.7 percent), Hyundai (40.6 percent) and Land Rover (up 36.9 percent), which showed some of the highest increases.

As far as market share, Asian brands commanded a 45.7 percent share in December, compared to 46.3 percent the prior month.

Market share for European automakers was 8.5 percent, versus 9.3 percent in November. Domestics took a 45.8 percent share, an increase of 1.3 percentage points.

For full-year 2009, imports combined to take 55.8 percent of the U.S. market, a hike from 52.4 percent the prior year.

Looking at the overall U.S. auto market — including imports and domestics — new-vehicle sales in December climbed a little more than 15 percent (unadjusted for business days) but full-year numbers dropped 21.2 percent.

For December, officials said the top-selling unit in the U.S. was the Ford F-Series, followed by the Toyota Camry/Solara, Toyota Corolla/Matrix, Chevrolet Silverado and Honda Accord, respectively.

Rounding out the top 10 were the Honda Civic, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Escape, Ford Fusion and Honda CR-V.

"Americans are looking for value and reliability when they purchase a vehicle, and they're finding it at international nameplate dealerships," commented Cody Lusk, president of AIADA.

"2009 has been a difficult year across the board, but our dealers are ending it on a high note," he added. "By building great cars, international brands continue to grow market share year after year."