(This story will be updated as additional sales numbers are released.)
Automakers got a month-long gift from consumers in December, sales pushing the U.S. auto industry to an all-time high as it closed the books on 2015.
The surge in demand was nearly universal, records falling for brands large and small. The big exception was Volkswagen. Hammered by the ongoing fall-out from it diesel emissions cheating scandal, it reported a double-digit decline for December, a day after it was sued by the U.S. Justice Department.
Estimates are that total industry sales for 2015 will reach 17.8 million units, surpassing the old record of 17.35 million set in 2000. The big question is whether that momentum will carry over into 2016, a question heightened by the start-of-the-year slump on Wall Street.
Despite that, Mustafa Mohatarem, General Motors’ chief economist, was upbeat, saying that, “The U.S. economy continues to expand and the most important factors that drive demand for new vehicles are in place, so we expect to see a second consecutive year of record industry sales in 2016.”
(For more on the Justice Department lawsuit against VW, Click Here.)
All three domestic carmakers, GM, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford Motor Co. reported strong gains for December and solid numbers for the year as a whole.
FCA US reported sales increased 13% for the group’s best December sales ever. For all of 2015, sales topped 2 million for the second year in a row. The company’s volumes have grown every year since the former Chrysler Corp. emerged from bankruptcy in 2009.
“FCA US finished 2015 strong with sales up 13%, and our best December sales since we started business more than 90 years ago,” said Reid Bigland, Head of U.S. Sales.
Ford’s 5% jump brought total 2015 U.S. sales to 2,613,162 vehicles and marked the company’s best annual sales results in nine years. Ford brand sales of 2,511,935 vehicles made Ford America’s best-selling brand for six straight years.
The F-Series pickup also retained its long-running title as both the best-selling U.S. truck and best-selling vehicle overall, with 2015 sales of 780,354 trucks. F-Series sales totaled 85,211 trucks in December, a 15% gain, driven largely by strong demand for the aluminum-bodied F-150 model. It marked the first time the F-Series overall broke through the 85,000 vehicle mark in a decade.
“December capped off six straight months of year-over-year sales gains for F-Series, with strong increases coming from both retail sales and the strength of commercial fleet orders, as we closed out 2015,” said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service. “Ford-brand SUVs delivered their best sales results in more than a decade, with our newest SUVs leaving dealer lots in a matter of days.”
(F-Series ends year in a blaze after cool start for all-new F-150. Click Here for the rest of that story.)
General Motors sales were up 6% in December. For the year, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac dealers delivered 3.1 million vehicles, driven by an 8% increase in retail deliveries compared to 2014. Total sales were up 5% for the year.
Asian brands also did well during December and during the 2015 calendar year.
Toyota Motor Sales reported an increase of 10.8% from December 2014 on a daily sales basis. For the year TMS reported sales of 2,499,313 units, a 5.3% increase.
“2015 was a standout year for the auto industry,” said Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager for the Toyota division. “Best-ever light truck sales helped the Toyota division earn the retail sales crown for the fourth consecutive year.”
Lexus reported all-time, any-month record sales in December of 41,380 units, a 3.8% increase. For the year, Lexus sales of 344,601 units were up 10.7 percent.
Nissan Group announced an increase of 19% over the prior year and an all-time December record. For calendar year 2015, Nissan set an all-time record, as well, with 1,484,918 total U.S. sales, an increase of 7 percent.
Honda set a record, as well, combined sales for the Honda and Acura brand surging 3.0% to 1,586,551 for the year. That was up 3.0%, year-over-year, and eclipsed the previous high set in 2007.
Mazda reported an increase of 18.1% versus December 2014 and the best December since 1994. The company also reported calendar year 2015 sales of 319,184, up 4.4% over 2014 and the best performance for the maker since.
While several European makers have yet to weigh in, they also appear headed for strong, if not record, numbers. Jaguar Land Rover had its best December ever, with volume up 30%. That was largely driven by the SUV side of the company, Land Rover gaining 37% for all of 2015, with an all-time high 70,582 vehicles sold in the U.S.
The big exception to the good news was Volkswagen AG, which has been stumbling since it was announced in September the German maker had installed a so-called “defeat device” in vehicles using its 2.0-liter turbodiesel. But the maker’s 10% drop in December – and 5% for the year as a whole – could have been worse. Normally, diesel models account for about 25% of U.S. sales for the maker, so it was actually able to bring some buyers back in for its gas models.
Perhaps surprisingly, VW’s sibling Audi brand has sloughed off the scandal. Its U.S. sales topped 200,000 for the first time ever, an increase of 11.1% for the full year.
(Sales slid in 2015, but a record number of plug-based models will soon hit market. Click Here for more.)
Huge year-end auto sales generated record $58 billion revenue in December, according to the True Car, the California-based, car-buying service. That was itself an all-time record and seemed to show that consumers may be less worried about the economy than some investors.
“Average transaction prices topped $34,000 for the first time ever last month,” said Stacey Doyle, TrueCar’s senior industry analyst. “A rich mix of luxury vehicles and full-size pickup helped fuel this increase. We expect average transaction prices in 2016 to rise at a similar pace, around 2 percent.”
(Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report.)