DETROIT—The U.S. auto industry set a sales record in 2015 as solid December gains by the biggest automakers pushed the annual tally above the 17.4 million mark set in 2000.
Automakers chalked up just under 17.5 million light-vehicle sales last year, according to the Automotive News Data Center. The December increase of 8.9 percent was one of the year's strongest, while the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate came in at 17.3 million, the lowest since September.
Automotive News is a sister publication of Rubber & Plastics News.
Among the biggest automakers, Nissan Motor Co. was the biggest gainer, with a 19 percent jump from December 2014 levels. FCA U.S. climbed 13 percent. Volume rose 11 percent at Toyota Motor Corp. and 10 percent at Honda Motor Co. Ford Motor Co. volume increased 8.3 percent while General Motors deliveries rose 5.7 percent
Heading into today, most analysts had forecast a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate above 18 million and a 12 month total of 17.5 million light vehicles. GM and FCA said today the SAAR would come in slightly below 18 million.
U.S. sales continue to be driven by low gasoline prices, pent-up demand, widespread credit availability, an increase in leasing and employment gains. Trucks, SUVs and crossovers continued to set the pace last month for industry volume.
“2015 was a standout year for the auto industry,” Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager for the Toyota division, said in a statement. “Best-ever light truck sales helped the Toyota division earn the retail sales crown for the fourth consecutive year.”
Volume rose 12 percent at the Toyota brand, 3.8 percent at Lexus and 44 percent at Scion last month.
Lexus passed Mercedes-Benz, but BMW held on in December to top the luxury segment in 2015 for its fourth sales crown in five years. The race was tight until the end. BMW finished 2015 with luxury sales of 346,023, followed by Lexus with 344,601 and Mercedes with 343,088, which excludes Sprinter deliveries. All three luxury brands, along with Audi and Porsche, set annual U.S. sales records last year.
Deliveries at Honda Motor Co. increased 9.9 percent with the Honda brand up 12 percent and Acura off 5.5 percent. The Honda brand, riding a wave of new or redesigned crossovers, set an annual record with 2015 deliveries of 1,409,386, up 2.6 percent
Subaru's U.S. sales advanced 13 percent last month, helping the brand to another annual milestone of 582,675 cars and light trucks sold, up 13 percent.
Among smaller automakers, December sales rose 18 percent at Mazda on strong truck volume, and 21 percent at Mitsubishi. Volvo saw volume surge 90 percent in December and 24 percent for the year.
Enhanced year-end discounts and five sales weekends in December put a solid cap on a sixth consecutive year of growth. There were also two extra selling days last month compared with December 2014.