DETROIT—U.S. auto sales are on pace to break the industry's single-year record by more than 100,000 vehicles, with December sales volume expected to be higher than any month in the past decade, according to a forecast issued by LMC Automotive.
LMC projects December sales of 1.71 million cars and light trucks, 14 percent more than a year ago. That would bring the total for 2015 to 17,542,165, a 6.1 percent increase from 2014.
The current record is 17,402,486, set in 2000.
LMC said 2016 will bring a second consecutive record year for industry sales but growth will slow considerably.
“We now have greater confidence that record sales in 2015 will lead to yet another volume record in 2016,” Jeff Schuster, LMC's senior vice president of forecasting, said in a statement. “The year-over-year growth rate is projected to be one-third of the growth experienced in 2015, but total and retail light-vehicle sales are at a 2 percent increase in 2016, keeping the expansion going.”
LMC, which develops its forecast with data from J.D. Power, estimates the industry's seasonally adjusted, annualized selling rate at 18.1 million in December, up from 16.8 million a year ago but slightly below the November rate of 18.2 million. It would be the fourth consecutive month with a SAAR of more than 18 million—an unprecedented streak for the industry.
If LMC's projection for December holds true, this would be the fifth time in six years that industry sales grew by at least 1 million units from the prior year. Auto makers will have sold 68 percent more vehicles this year than in 2009.
Edmunds.com is slightly more conservative in its forecast, calling for a SAAR of 17.8 million in December and sales of 1.69 million units, a 12 percent gain from a year ago.
"It's truly remarkable that the auto industry is finishing off its best year ever just six years after the depths of the Great Recession,” Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds.com director of industry analysis, said in a statement. “Low-APR offers and tumbling gas prices are making it easy for shoppers to buy or lease a new car, but don't overlook the products themselves. If you're buying a new car today, you're getting a safer, more fuel-efficient and more technologically-packed vehicle than ever before.”
Two more selling days
December's strength is helped by having two more selling days than a year ago and, for the first time since 2012, five weekends. Sales made through Monday, Jan. 4, count toward 2015 because industry practice is to end each year on the first business day of January.
The last time sales in any month topped 1.7 million was July 2005, when the Detroit 3 auto makers offered employee discounts to all consumers.
LMC and J.D. Power project total retail sales for 2015 of 14.3 million units, which it said would represent the fourth-best year in history, excluding fleet deliveries.