DETROIT >> Demand may be slowing, but U.S. consumers still bought a whole lot of cars and trucks in 2016.
U.S. sales of new vehicles — which set a record of 17.47 million in 2015 — could hit a new high in 2016. Consulting firm LMC Automotive and car-buying site Edmunds.com each predict sales will squeak past 2015’s record and reach 17.5 million in 2016.
But after six straight years of sales gains — a string not seen since the 1920s — U.S. sales have reached a plateau. The National Automobile Dealers Association expects U.S. sales to drop to 17.1 million vehicles in 2017 as interest rates and vehicle prices rise. More buyers are also opting for longer loans, which means they won’t be returning to dealerships anytime soon.
For now, though, the market is strong. Nissan Motor Co.’s U.S. sales rose 5 percent in 2016 to more than 1.5 million, a company record. Ford Motor Co.’s sales were up less than 1 percent to more than 2.6 million. Fiat Chrysler’s sales were flat at 2.2 million.
General Motors Co. said its year-over-year sales were down 1.3 percent to just over 3 million cars and trucks. That was partly because the company cut back on low-profit sales to rental-car firms. Toyota Motor Corp. said its full-year sales fell 2 percent to 2.4 million. Volkswagen brands sales dropped 8 percent to 322,948, hurt by the company’s diesel mileage cheating scandal.
Other automakers report December and full-year sales later Wednesday.
Ford’s F-Series pickup remained the best-selling vehicle in America in 2016, with 820,799 trucks sold. That’s the equivalent of 93 trucks sold every hour.
Low gas prices, rising employment and low interest rates kept buyers coming to car dealerships last year. There was also the lure of new technology — such as backup cameras, automatic emergency braking and Apple CarPlay — and new vehicles like the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, the Honda Civic and the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt.
Here are some details of 2016 sales:
PILING ON THE DEALS: Incentive spending reached a record of $4,000 per vehicle in November before falling a bit in December. Incentives are great for buyers, who were walking away with thousands of dollars in bonus cash or financing deals. But the deals can hurt the industry in the long term, since they damage vehicles’ resale values and automakers’ profits. Automakers, wary of relying too heavily on incentives to move vehicles, started cutting production in the fall. Even with incentives, the average sale price of a vehicle rose to $32,000, a record for December, LMC said.