Ford Fusion Sport (© Ford Motor Company)

The list of 2011's best-selling vehicles is out, and it looks as if America's Big Three have something to celebrate: They captured six of the top 10 spots. Unfortunately, the reason for their success isn't entirely due to better products. Instead, Mother Nature seems to have had it out for Japan's Big Three this year.

Still trying to recover from the global economic meltdown of 2008-09, Honda, Nissan and Toyota were hamstrung in 2011 by two natural disasters. An earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan in March and flooding in Thailand in July shut down production plants and crippled supply chains all over the world, leading to severe vehicle shortages at dealers and a serious reduction in sales.

Honda saw its popular CR-V and Civic fall out of the top 10 this year, and the Accord dropped from fourth to ninth overall. Toyota lost sales for its two top-10 entries, the Camry and Corolla, even though the former remained America's best-selling car. Nissan weathered the storm better than its Japanese rivals by getting production up and running quicker, and by focusing attention on its models built in the United States, which were not as affected by the disasters.

On the other hand, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler all captured market share this year.

Here, we look at each of the models in the top 10 and what got them there.

Bing: Best 2011 Cars

1. Ford F-Series Pickup

Total sales: 584,917 | Percentage change: +10.7 percent

The Ford F-Series has been the best-selling truck in the U.S. for 35 years and the best-selling vehicle for 30 years, and the changes Ford made to it for the 2011 model year assured that it would stay far ahead of the competition. A new engine lineup improved both power and fuel economy; the turbocharged EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 took the mantle as our favorite full-size pickup engine. On the whole, the F-Series remains one of the most refined truck lineups on the market, with all the capability that owners can ask for and technology unmatched by the competition.

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2. Chevrolet Silverado

Total sales: 415,130 | Percentage change: +12.2 percent

It's been awhile since the Silverado 1500 was updated, but the Heavy Duty models got a well-received redesign for the 2011 model year that placed them among the brawniest workhorses on the market. Still, the entire Silverado lineup gained market share, though marginally. Part of the reason may be the momentum gained when the Silverado HD won the 2011 Motor Trend Truck of the Year honors. Despite the age of the 1500, it offers competitive engines, plenty of cargo-hauling and towing capability, and a comfortable ride.

Compare: Chevrolet Silverado 1500 vs. Ford F-150 vs. Ram 1500

3. Toyota Camry

Total sales: 308,510 | Percentage change: -5.9 percent

While the Toyota Camry remained America's best-selling car, sales were down because of the aforementioned product shortages; you can't sell what you don't have. Production didn't recover from the earthquake until September, and inventory levels aren't expected to be up to normal until the end of the first quarter of 2012. Unfortunately for Toyota, the slowdown happened amid a redesign of the Camry, and redesigns usually cause a car's sales to increase. While the redesign made a good car even better, some think that Toyota played it too safe and that the car won't scare off any of its competition, which is only going to get stiffer over the next year with redesigns scheduled for the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion.

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4. Nissan Altima

Total sales: 268,981 | Percentage change: +17.3 percent

The Nissan Altima improved from seventh to fourth on the list of overall best-sellers. Nissan credits adept crisis management for its success. "We got our inventories back up to full levels in about 45 days after the tsunami. Toyota and Honda paled by comparison," says Al Castignetti, vice president and general manager of Nissan North America. Castignetti says that being named a Consumer Reports Top Pick also helped spark Altima sales. We find the Altima to be one of the most engaging midsize cars to drive. It also delivers plenty of space, strong engines and a quality interior.

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5. Ford Escape

Total sales: 254,293 | Percentage change: +33.1 percent
Proof that the crossover market is red-hot, the aging Ford Escape jumped from 13th to fifth on the annual best-sellers list. Not a bad way to go out, since the Escape is due for a complete redesign this year. The current Escape was built at a time when big, macho SUVs were all the rage. While it makes good use of space, it falls behind the competition in ride and handling. The 2013 model, due in dealerships this spring, should rectify those deficiencies.

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