U.S. auto sales hit a record high in 2016, thanks to a robust December, edging past the previous all-time high set in 2015.
Total December sales were 1.68 million units, up 2.9% year-over-year, while the 2016 total hit 17.49 million units, up four-tenths of a percent over 2015.
GM's December sales rose 10%, Ford was up three-tenths of a percent and Toyota increased 2%. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was down 10% and Mazda was down 1.8%.
Analysts are already projecting another “healthy year” for sales.
“In 2017, automakers will continue to work to increase supply of the utility vehicles that are in high demand, while also looking at ways to manage production of passenger cars,” said Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst, IHS Markit. “Those who manage this most successfully will benefit in the marketplace and in profitability. Those with older products or a product range misaligned with demand for vehicles that deliver more practicality for moving people and stuff are likely to continue to see trouble spots.”
Appealing products, incentives, and financing likely drove the industry to another record year in 2016, said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book.
“A three-peat is possible, if not probable, if Wall Street, consumer confidence, and the economy continue to respond favorably to the incoming administration,” Lindland says. “There are a lot of old cars on the road still and a lot of new technology awaiting shoppers in today's showrooms.”
Pickup trucks and SUV sales continue to be key across automakers.
Toyota posted its best-ever light truck sales for the month and year. Ford said it sold 87,512 F-Series pickups in December, the lineup’s best overall sales month in 11 years.
“Ford managed a very impressive 5% increase in Ford-brand sales to consumers, led by its array of pickup trucks, SUVs, and crossovers,” Lindland says. “But abysmal car sales prevented the brand from going further. The big question for 2017 -- what will it take to improve Ford's car sales?”
While GM’s increase in sales is impressive given the high volumes and provides the company with a strong foundation for 2017, Cadillac is down nearly 5% for the year and will need to sharpen its brand messaging, she says.
“The products are there, but luxury is incredibly competitive right now. Consumers need more compelling reasons to purchase a Cadillac than strategically dampened cobblestone streets,” Lindland says, referencing a current TV spot featuring the Escalade SUV.