US auto sales for 2015 set to smash records

Total industry sales for 2015 have been forecast to hit 17.5 million vehicles.
Total industry sales for 2015 have been forecast to hit 17.5 million vehicles. PHOTO: REUTERS

CHICAGO (AFP) - US auto sales were set to smash records in 2015 as easy credit, hot new vehicles and strong consumer confidence lured buyers to showrooms.

General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota reported strong December sales on Tuesday (Jan 5) and forecast the good times would keep rolling in 2016.

"The US 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," said GM chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem.

"The single most important pieces are the ongoing gains in employment and the growth in personal income. When you add in lower energy prices, it's easy to see why consumer spending is strong."

GM forecast that total industry sales for 2015 would hit 17.5 million vehicles once all carmakers report their results later on Tuesday.

That would beat the previous record of 17.4 million set in 2000 and be six per cent higher than the 16.4 million vehicles sold in 2014, according to WardsAuto.

"It's truly remarkable that the auto industry is finishing off its best year ever just six years after the depths of the Great Recession," said Ms Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with the automotive website Edmunds.com.

While easy credit terms and low gas prices are making it easier for consumers to buy or lease new cars, Ms Caldwell said the attractiveness of product offerings is sealing the deal.

"If you're buying a new car today, you're getting a safer, more fuel-efficient and more technologically packed vehicle than ever before," she said in a statement. "Automakers are doing a great job giving the people what they want in a new car."

Embattled German automaker Volkswagen bucked the trend as sales were hit by a massive pollution-cheating scandal.

VW sales fell nine per cent to 30,956 in December and were down five per cent in 2015 at 349,400 vehicles.

The results were nonetheless better than the 25 per cent drop registered in November after VW stopped selling diesel vehicles shown to have been equipped for years with software that intentionally subverted clean-air regulations.

"As we look towards 2016, we are committed to rebuilding trust in the brand and would like to thank our customers and dealers for their continued patience and loyalty," said Mr Mark McNabb, chief operating officer, Volkswagen of America.

GM sales rose six per cent in December to 290,230 vehicles while total 2015 sales for the largest US automaker were up five per cent at 3.1 million vehicles.

Ford sales were up eight per cent in December at 239,242 and rose five per cent in 2015 to 2.6 million vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler sales jumped 13 per cent in December to 217,527. Sales for 2015 were up seven per cent at 2.2 million vehicles.

Toyota sales increased 11 per cent in December to 238,350 and were up five per cent in 2015 at 2.5 million.

Both of the Japanese automaker's brands - Toyota and Lexus - posted record-breaking December sales while its Corolla, RAV4 and Highlander vehicles smashed records for the year.

"2015 was a standout year for the auto industry," Mr Bill Fay, 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."