Led by double-digit sales increases at Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Toyota Motor Corp., the U.S. auto industry closed out a stellar 2014 with a blockbuster December as U.S. consumers took advantage of year-end deals, lower fuel prices and an improving economy.
A total of 13 brands — Honda, Nissan, Subaru, Porsche, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Land Rover, Hyundai, BMW, Audi, Jeep and Ram — set U.S. sales records for 2014.
Sales at FCA, formerly the Chrysler Group, rose 20 percent in December, capping a year that saw overall volume advance 16 percent. The company posted the biggest gain in U.S. market share among major automakers on robust demand for Ram pickups and Jeeps.
Deliveries at GM rose 19 percent, with retail volume increasing 23 percent and fleet shipments advancing 6 percent. Sales rose 21 percent at Chevrolet, 23 percent at GMC and 32 percent at Buick, while Cadillac dropped 11 percent. For all of 2014, GM’s sales advanced 5 percent.
At Toyota, sales of Lexus, Toyota and Scion models totaled 215,057 last month, a 13 percent increase. The company’s 2014 volume advanced 6 percent. Toyota brand deliveries rose 12 percent and Lexus volume hit a December record of 39,879, up 15 percent. The Camry, with sales of 428,606, remained the top-selling car in the U.S. for the 13th straight year.
Ford Motor Co. sales rose 1 percent in December and slipped nearly 1 percent for the year, reflecting lower F-150 volume as the company transitions to the redesigned 2015 model. Deliveries last month rose 0.5 percent at the Ford brand and 21 percent at Lincoln.
At FCA, sales last month rose 19 percent at Jeep, 35 percent at Ram, 53 percent at the Chrysler brand and 1 percent at Fiat. Volume slipped 2 percent at Dodge. The company’s U.S. deliveries have now increased 57 consecutive months.
For the year, FCA’s sales hit nearly 2.1 million on a 28 percent surge in light-truck deliveries.
FCA is particularly well positioned as America rekindles its fondness for SUVs and pickups. For the year, Jeep volume surged 41 percent to 692,348 — a U.S. record. Ram pickup deliveries surged 24 percent in 2014 to 439,789.
Through November, FCA’s U.S. market share stood at 12.7 percent, up from 11.5 percent through November 2013. Jeep’s U.S. market share climbed 1.1 percentage points to 4.2 percent through November.
Honda Motor Co.’s sales edged up 1.5 percent last month. Despite a slight drop in volume at the Honda brand in December, U.S. sales at the division set an annual record of 1,373,029. Acura volume rose 13 percent last month and 1.5 percent for the year. Honda — describing the truck market as “fast-paced” — said it set December and full-year records for crossovers and other light trucks. Deliveries of the CR-V crossover rose 13 percent in December to a record 32,369 units, and 10 percent for the year to a record of 335,019. Sales of the Honda Pilot, helped by incentives, surged 28 percent to 11,479 in December.
Deliveries at the Nissan brand rose 9 percent while volume slipped 9 percent at Infiniti last month. For the year, U.S. sales rose 12 percent to a record 1,269,565 at the Nissan division and 1 percent at Infiniti.
Fred Diaz, Nissan’s senior vice president for U.S. sales, marketing and operations, credited the company’s core models — Altima, Sentra, Versa and Rogue, as well as the Leaf — for the results.
Even with gasoline prices falling in recent months, U.S. deliveries of the Leaf topped 30,000 in 2014 — the first time any plug-in vehicle has reached that milestone in a single year, the company said.
Overall, Nissan’s car sales rose 12 percent while truck volume slipped 1 percent last month. For the year, the company’s car volume rose 13 percent, outpacing the 9 percent increase in truck demand.
Mazda reported December volume of 24,808, a gain of 8 percent, and the company’s annual sales topped 300,000 units for the first time since 1994. The company said it retailed 278,880 units last year, the highest total since 1994 as part of a plan to reduce reliance on fleet deliveries.
Volkswagen sold 34,058 vehicles last month, essentially flat compared to Dec. 2013, while the brand’s full-year sales fell 10 percent to 366,970, VW said.
For the year, industry deliveries reached just over 16.5 million – representing a 58 percent increase since 2009.
Light-vehicle sales in the U.S. averaged 16.8 million units from 2000 to 2007. The industry established an annual record in 2000 with 17.4 million deliveries.
Numerous factors are playing out to support robust auto sales heading into 2015. Favorable financing terms, improving household finances, employment gains, new or redesigned models and the plunge in gasoline prices are all combining to attract buyers to U.S. showrooms.
A steady wave of recalls — the industry set a record in 2014 — also hasn’t deterred shoppers.
In a Twitter post, Hyundai said it set a December U.S. sales record, with the Accent, Genesis sedan, Elantra GT and Equus each establishing new records for the month.
To end the year on a high note, there were plenty of deals promoted throughout the month and many dealers extended showroom hours between Christmas and the New Year holiday weekend to handle additional volume.
With gasoline prices falling below $2 a gallon in large swaths of the country, automakers and dealers sweetened discounts on hybrids. Kelley Blue Book said light-vehicle transaction prices rose nearly 3 percent year-over-year to $34,367 in December — making it the highest month on record for average transaction prices.
It was also the year of the light truck for most automakers. Sales of SUVs, pickups and vans surged 20 percent to 7.77 million units through November, while car volume rose just 1 percent to 7.26 million.
Buyers purchased more pickups, minivans, crossovers and SUVs than cars every month in 2014. That’s something automakers haven’t enjoyed since 2004 when a barrel of oil sold for less than $40.
Smaller SUVs and crossovers such as the Jeep Cherokee and Honda CR-V are driving the market. Sales of the car-based SUVs grew almost 14 percent through November in a market that is up 6 percent.
The CR-V led the segment with 302,650 deliveries through November, up 10 percent. Ford’s Escape was up 3 percent to 280,609, and Toyota Motor Corp.’s RAV4 gained 24 percent to 244,701.
With consumer comfort at a seven-year high, the U.S. recovery in auto sales is clearly about more than just less expensive gasoline. The U.S. economy continues to recover and add jobs, which is another reason that sales should keep growing this year, according to Eric Lyman, TrueCar’s vice president of industry insights.
When the smoke cleared, 2014 U.S. Sales were 16,531,070, versus 15,603,678 an increase over 2013 of 6%. Total December 2014 sales were 1,507,928-an 11% increase from December 2013. By comparison, in 2009, there were 10,400,000 new vehicles sold.