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Automakers expected to report record annual sales

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Automakers are expected to celebrate the new year by reporting record-setting auto sales for 2015.

Industry analysts predict the auto industry sold about 17.5 million cars and trucks last year in the United States – besting the all-time sales record of 17.4 million in 2000.

Automakers, including the Detroit Three, will report December and year-end sales on Tuesday.

Demand for pickups, sport utility vehicles and crossovers, as well as low interest rates, pent-up demand, increased leasing and credit availability all made for a perfect storm for more cars and trucks to be driven off dealers’ lots than ever before.

“We’re hitting a number of unprecedented numbers as we close out 2015,” said Eric Lyman, TrueCar vice president of industry insights. “There’s lots of significant events coming at the end of the year.”

In addition to the sales record, Lyman says 2015 sales will mark six consecutive years of year-over-year sales growth – a stretch that hasn’t been equaled since the 1920s. December sales also are expected to mark two other industry-firsts: Average transaction prices of more than $34,000 and an adjusted sales pace of more than 18 million for the fourth consecutive month.

Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV are expected to be the big winners for December 2015, with all expected to post year-over-year increases of at least 12.5 percent compared with 2014, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. also are expected to report double-digit increases for December 2015. General Motors Co. is expected to report a 9 percent increase from 2014.

The only major automaker not expected to report significant gains in December is Volkswagen AG (Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche brands).

Even before the German automaker’s ongoing diesel emissions scandal involving millions of vehicles, VW’s sales were lagging other automakers due to its dependency on car sales over pickups and SUVs.

Heading into December, truck sales represented 55.2 percent, or 8.7 million, of vehicles sold in the United States. That compares with passenger car sales at 44.8 percent, or 7.4 million.

If the sales trend, as expected, continued into December, it will be the lowest car market share in more than a decade.

“Low gas prices certainly helped put money in people’s pockets, which goes along with the overall feeling good about the economy, and led to all the SUV and truck purchases this year,” said Jessica Caldwell, director of industry analysis.

“It was really the year of the SUV.”

LMC Automotive and J.D. Power predict December to be the best-selling month of not only 2015, but the past decade. They expect sales hit 1.71 million, the highest number since sales reached 1.8 million in July 2005.

December traditionally is a strong vehicle sales month due to consumers taking advantage of year-end and holiday deals. The companies expect people spent more than $44 billion on new vehicles in December and $437 billion in 2015. Both figures would be records.

Karl Brauer, KBB senior analyst, said the quality of the vehicles themselves also is pulling consumers into dealerships.

“These are desirable products,” Brauer said. “There are a lot of appealing aspects to getting a new car, even if you don’t have an 11-year-old car or more. Cars 11 years ago just didn’t have any of the things cars do now.”

Auto sales are expected to continue growing in 2016. Many industry experts expect sales to reach 18 million this year.

“We’re forecasting 18.1 million for 2016,” Caldwell said. “We see these conditions are likely to continue … There’s really no indication that these are going to slow down.”

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