2014 car sales best in U.S. since '06
Buoyed by the recovering economy, lower gas prices and the blistering sales of trucks and SUVs, automakers sold more vehicles in 2014 than in any year since before the U.S. recession. Industry experts expect those gains to continue this year, although the sales pace likely will slow from 2014.
U.S. sales of cars and light trucks totaled 16.52 million — the first time they crossed the 16 million mark since 2006. That was nearly 1 million more sales than in 2013, according to figures released Monday.
"The U.S. auto industry surprised many with a better-than-expected 2014, and closed on a high note, which bodes well for 2015," Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for AutoTrader.com, said in a statement. "While new-car sales likely will rise again in 2015, it won't be at the pace we've seen in recent years. Competition will intensify and automakers' pledge to be disciplined in balancing supply and incentives with demand will be tested."
In addition to robust sales of trucks and SUVs — especially compact sport utility models — luxury cars did well among buyers. Non-luxury sedans, however, didn't sell as well.
Foreign makes Hyundai, Honda, Nissan, and BMW set U.S. sales records in 2014.
Among last year's highlights:
■Trucks, including SUVs, outsold cars. Together, sales in this category rose 10 percent, to 8,603,399.
Separated from pickups, SUV and crossover sales rose 11.8 percent to 5,381,431 last year, as automakers rushed to offer more models in the hot segment.
■The top three best-selling vehicles were all American trucks: Ford Motor Co's F-150, General Motors Co.'s Silverado and the Dodge Ram 1500.
■ GM sold more vehicles in 2014 than any other automaker.
■Ford was the best-selling brand for the fifth-straight year, and the Dearborn automaker's F-150 pickup was the best-selling truck for the 38th straight year.
■The Toyota Camry was the nation's best-selling car for the 13th consecutive year.
■ BMW was the best-selling upscale automaker, beating out Mercedes-Benz and Lexus in the growing luxury segment, where sales increased 15.1 percent. Ford's Lincoln continued its turnaround with a 15.6 percent sales increase, which came mostly from its new MKC crossover and refreshed Navigator.
■ Asian automakers outsold American and European brands by about 35,000 vehicles.
■FCA US LLC — the Fiat and Chrysler tieup — continued its impressive streak in 2014, finishing the year with 57-consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains.
For the year, FCA sales were up 16.1 percent, driven by strong performances for its Jeep and Chrysler brands. GM sales rose 5.3 percent as SUVS from its Buick and Chevy brands attracted buyers. And Ford sales were down 0.6 percent compared to 2013, due mostly to launch costs and extended plant downtime related to the introduction of its new aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup.
Chrysler gained the most market share in 2014 as Toyota and Nissan also saw upticks. Ford lost the most share as GM, Honda and Hyundai also lost.
December sales were strong, fanned by falling gas prices and holiday sales. Detroit's Big Three automakers all reported December sales gains Monday as overall industry sales increased 10.8 percent last month.
GM reported a 19.3 percent sales increase last month compared to the same time a year ago; December sales at Ford rose 1.3 percent, and FCA US LLC reported Monday its December sales in the United States were up 20.4 percent — its best December in a decade.
The less fuel-efficient, higher-profit vehicles were helped in 2014 by lower gas prices to end the year, but analysts say their popularity extends beyond numbers at the pump.
"What we're seeing now are trends that we've seen for the past couple years, long before the fall of gas prices," Krebs said Monday on a conference call with reporters. "What's new will sell, even on the car side."
And automakers introduced plenty of SUVs last year, and this year's North American International Auto Show, which opens to the world's automotive press Monday, should add even more.
GM introduced six new 2015 utilities: the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL; Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban; and Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV. Ford Motor Co. also rolled out its updated 2015 Lincoln Navigator in 2014 and recently unveiled its 2016 Ford Explorer that's due on dealer lots in 2015. Last year also marked the first full year of sales for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' 2014 Dodge Durango and Jeep Cherokee SUVs. The Cherokee helped lead Jeep to a 41.2 percent boost in sales compared to 2013.
Analysts are already looking ahead to 2015 and anticipate sales of around 17 million vehicles. Hot segments like compact crossovers, trucks and SUVs should continue to attract buyers, and low gas prices could continue to help sales through the first half of the year.
Staff Writer Michael Wayland contributed.
2014's top sellers
1. Ford F-150
2. Chevrolet Silverado
3. Dodge Ram 1500
4. Toyota Camry
5. Honda Accord
6. Toyota Corolla/Matrix
7. Nissan Altima
8. Honda CR-V
9. Honda Civic
10. Ford Fusion