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Auto Industry Ends 2015 On A Very Strong Note

DETROIT (WWJ) - Car and truck sales set a new record in 2015, narrowly edging out the previous record--17.4 million, set in 2000.

"Hear that?  That's the sound of sales records falling," said analyst Michelle Krebs. "More importantly, profits are setting records as almost all automakers are in far healthier financial shape than they were in 2000.

All three domestic car companies posted gains, with Fiat Chrysler leading the way.  It's sales were up 7 percent for the full year, with a very strong showing for December.

"FCA US finished 2015 strong with sales up 13 percent and our best December sales since we started business more than 90 years ago," said Reid Bigland, Head of U.S. Sales. "For the second straight year, the company has topped 2 million in US sales. FCA US sales have now grown annually for the past six years."

Ford and GM both reported their full year sales up 5 percent over 2015.  Ford sales rose 8 percent in December.  GM sales rose 6 percent.

"The momentum that the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra have carried all year, hits like the Chevrolet Trax and Colorado, and innovative designs like the GMC Canyon and Buick Encore, have had a tremendous positive impact on our sales results," said Kurt McNeil, GM's U.S. vice president of Sales Operations. "In a record year for the industry, GM gained significant retail market share and we grew our Commercial business by 12 percent."

Ford once again had the best-selling vehicle in America.  The F-series pickup has  held that crown for 34 years now.

"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."

Nissan tops the import brands, with sales up 19 percent in December,  7 percent for the year.  It was Honda's best year ever, with sales up 3 percent over 2015.  Toyota sales rose 5 percent for the full year. Hyundai-Kia sales rose 6 percent of the year.

The only negatives coming from Volkswagen.  Diesel issues pushed VW brand sales down 5 percent for the year.

Most of the gains came on the truck side of the equation.  But, Truecar analyst Stacey Doyle says things are very different than they were during the last SUV craze.

"In 2000, we were looking at the top utility and it was the Ford Explorer, which is a mid size utility that is truck based.  This year, it was the Honda CRV, which is a compact car based utility."

For the 34th year in a row, the Ford F-series was the top selling vehicle in America.  But, GM sold the most pickups overall, more than 900 thousand if you count full-size, heavy duty and mid-size pickups.

Analysts expect the strong sales trends to continue in 2016, with that year likely beating the 2015 record. The sales cycle is expected to peak in 2016 or 2017.

"There's not any indication that demand is slowing down.  It looks like all of the economic factors are in place," said Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell.  "Interests rates, although there's a little bit of a hike, are expected to be really low."

This article was originally written by Jeff Gilbert for

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