Rising consumer confidence, coupled with an increase in promotions and incentives, helped the U.S. auto industry set a new sales record in December and post record sales for the second consecutive year.
General Motors, with a 10% increase, Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Volkswagen all reported increased sales for December while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. reported a 10% sales decline as it continued to trim sales to fleet customers.
“We finished 2016 with a strong December, reflecting the continued strength of GM’s U.S. retail and commercial businesses,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president of U.S. Sales Operations. “We begin 2017 well positioned to continue growing our U.S. retail business, driven by all-new products like the Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse being launched into key, growing U.S. market segments.”
“Key economic indicators, especially consumer confidence, continue to reflect optimism about the U.S. economy and strong customer demand continues to drive a very healthy U.S. auto industry,” said Mustafa Mohatarem, GM’s chief economist. “We believe the U.S. auto industry remains well-positioned for sales to continue at or near record levels in 2017.”
Ford Motor Co.’s total December U.S. sales of 239,854 vehicles were up 0.3% as retail sales increased 5% last month for the company’s best December retail performance since 2004. Strong retail demand for F-150 and the all-new Super Duty contributed to the best overall sales month for F-Series in 11 years and December was Ford’s best SUV sales month since 2002, with gains coming from Edge, Explorer and Expedition.
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Overall, Lincoln sales were up 18% for the month, with 12,791 vehicles sold. Strong performance from the all-new Lincoln Continental, with 1,845 cars sold, contributed to a 28% increase in December car sales for Lincoln versus a year ago.
“December marked Ford’s best retail performance since 2004, with average transaction prices increasing $1,600 for the month – $1,000 more than the industry average,” said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service. “Thanks to strong customer demand for F-Series, Transit and an all-new lineup of heavy trucks, Ford capped 2016 as America’s best-selling truck brand.”
Meanwhile, the company’s 2016 U.S. sales of 2,614,697 vehicles mark its best results in 10 years. Ford brand sales of 2,502,973 vehicles make Ford America’s best-selling brand for seven straight years.
For 2016, F-Series sales totaled 820,799 trucks, making it America’s best-selling pickup for 40 years straight and best-selling vehicle for 35 years in a row. Ford U.S. truck sales, including vans, pickups and heavy trucks, totaled 1,077,006 vehicles, a 7% increase versus a year ago.
Not all the makers enjoyed such success. FCA reported U.S. sales of 192,519 units, a 10% decrease compared with sales in December 2015.
In December, FCA’s fleet sales of 36,532 units were down 34% year over year as FCA US continues its strategy of reducing its sales to the daily rental segment. Fleet sales represented 19% of total FCA US sales in the month. FCA US retail sales of 155,987 units were down 2% year over year in December, and represented 81% of total sales for the month.
For the full year, the Ram Truck and Jeep brands each recorded year-over-year sales gains versus sales in 2015. FCA US full-year sales were flat in 2016 compared with sales in 2015.
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Toyota Motor Sales reported December 2016 sales of 243,229 vehicles, an increase of 2% from December 2015 on a volume basis. With one less selling day in December 2016 compared to December 2015, sales were up 5.8% on a daily selling rate basis. For the year, TMS reported sales of 2,449,630 vehicles, a 2% drop.
Toyota division posted December sales of 202,047 units, up 2.6% on a volume basis.
“With another record year for the auto industry, consumers established Toyota as the number one retail brand in 2016, now five years running,” said Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota division.
Nissan Group announced total U.S. sales for December 2016 of 152,743 units, an increase of 9.7% compared with the prior year and a December record. For calendar year 2016, Nissan set an all-time record with 1,564,423 total U.S. sales, an increase of 5.4%.
Volkswagen of America Inc. reported 37,229 units delivered in December 2016. This marks a 20.3% increase over December 2015. Sales for 2016 total 322,948 units, a 7.6% decline over 2015.
Analysts at Kelley Blue Book the estimated average transaction price for light vehicles in the United States was $35,309 in December 2016, an all-time record high. New-car prices have increased by $521 or 1.5% from December 2015, while rising $166 from last month.
“Even though transaction prices are at an all-time high, incentives have grown similarly to counterbalance the increased prices,” said Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book.
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“Higher average transaction prices are reflective of the rapid shift in consumer demand away from cars and into trucks and utility vehicles, which are more expensive. Should the sales mix of cars to SUVs reach a stable point in the near future, actual transaction price growth could match or fall just short of inflation.”