Cleveland, Ohio – Another year, another record down. In 2015, auto sales crossed the 17 million mark for the first time, closing out at 17.47 million. Sales totals for 2016 topped that by a hair – about 56,000 more vehicles for a 17.54 million close, a 0.3% gain.
Okay, it was a squeaker, but a win’s a win.
Strong December numbers pulled the industry into positive sales totals for the year and provide some hope that demand will remain high in 2017.
The following company-by-company breakdown will focus on full-year figures, not just December’s results. As has been the case for most of the year, trucks and SUVs dominated the year as cars fell further out of favor.
- General Motors – 3,042,775. -1.3%. Don’t let the slight decline for the year fool you. GM had a fantastic 2016. Retail sales were up nearly 2%, meaning the company slashed sales to rental car companies, opting for customers that leave a profit margin for the manufacturer when they pay. Retail sales climbed to 80.4% of GM’s total, up from 78% in 2015. Sales of the newly launched Chevrolet Malibu were great (up 17% for the year, up 87% in December alone), and highly profitable trucks and crossovers performed well.
“Key economic indicators, especially consumer confidence, continue to reflect optimism about the U.S. economy and strong customer demand continues to drive a very healthy U.S. auto industry,” says Mustafa Mohatarem, GM’s chief economist. “We believe the U.S. auto industry remains well-positioned for sales to continue at or near record levels in 2017.
- Ford Motor Co. – 2,614,697. 0.1%. The only one of the Detroit’s automakers to post a gain (1,535 more vehicles than a year ago), Ford was best able to take advantage of the growing popularity of trucks and SUVs. A 6.5% increase un truck sales (mainly from booming van and commercial truck numbers) and a 4.3% rise in SUVs made up for the 14.0% dive for the company’s car business. The F-Series truck line remained the most popular vehicle in the country for the 40th consecutive year.
Ford’s decision, announced Tuesday, to scrap plans for a $1.6 billion small car plant in Mexico make more sense seeing year-end figures for the Focus compact car to have been built there. Focus sales peaked in 2012, and the car’s declines have accelerated each year since – down 4.6% in 2013, 6.4% in 2014, 7.8% in 2015, and 16.6% last year. Fusion mid-sized sedans were down 11.4% last year, and the two vehicles combined for 434,629 units last year – making it clear that Ford’s single Hermosillo, Mexico, plant can handle both models, eliminating the need for the second plant.
Toyota Motor Co. – 2,449,630. -2.0%. Cars down, trucks up is a great recipe for success for truck-heavy companies such as Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler – for Toyota and others that typically get their best numbers from cars, not so much. In 2015, 51.3% of vehicles sold by Toyota were cars. Last year, that was down to 46.8% – marking the first time Toyota ended a year with more trucks and SUVs sold than cars. Crossovers, such as the RAV4, Highlander, and 4Runner, were responsible for the bulk of Toyota’s gains in trucks, but they couldn’t make up for the steep declines for the Camry. At 388,618 units, Camry sales were off 9.5% from 2015, still enough to keep the crown for No. 1 selling car in the U.S.
- FCA US LLC – 2,244,315. -0.4%. Jeep SUVs and RAM trucks kept company sales flat in 2016, making up for steep losses at Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, and Alfa Romeo. Fiat Chrysler had planned for weaker car sales last year, ending production of the Dodge Dart compact and Chrysler 200 mid-sized sedan during the year. At Chrysler, minivan sales were positive as the outgoing Town & Country and newly launched Pacifica totaled 121,437 vehicles, up 24.5% from 2015’s Town & Country sales. Ram pickup sales rose 9% for the year, making it the fastest-growing truck brand.
- American Honda – 1,637,942. 3.2%. Honda chose a great time to enter to small crossover market with its HR-V. Sales nearly doubled for the small vehicle (up 95.5%), generating nearly all of the company’s sales increase for the year. Unlike Toyota, Honda cars stayed strong in 2016, posting a 1.1% increase. Accord mid-sized sedan sales fell less than 3%, while Civic compact sales were up 9.4%.
"2016 was a very rewarding year for American Honda in which we set a second consecutive all-time sales record while maintaining our unique focus on retail sales to individual buyers," says John Mendel, executive vice president of the Automobile Division of American Honda Motor Co. Inc. "We are going to build on this success with a continued focus on strong products and sound sales strategies that increase quality and value for our customers."
- Nissan Motor Co. – 1,564,423. 5.4%. The fastest-growing company of the major, full-line automotive producers, Nissan was able to limit the damage done by falling car sales with strong results from the Maxima sedan (up 55.3%). Strong numbers for that car prevented a Toyota-like car plunge as Nissan car sales fell only 2.4%. That left a big opening for truck sales to pull the company into positive territory.
Titan full-sized truck sales leapt 80.2% to 21,880 units (yes, that’s a stronger growth rate than Ram trucks mentioned above, but the sales totals are night-and-day, 489,418 for Ram, compared to the fewer than 22,000 for Titan). Frontier small pickup sales were also higher (38.4%), as were Murano crossovers (38.2%) and Rogue small crossovers (14.9%).
- Hyundai/Kia – 1,422,603. 2.5%. Kia and Hyundai both gained ground, but Kia was responsible for the bulk of the increase. Kia’s Forte compact car defied industry trends and posted a 31% jump, making up for losses from the Optima mid-sized sedan. Solid increases from the Sportage crossover and Sedona minivan cemented Kia’s 3.5% increase. Hyundai gained 1.7% thanks mainly to increases from the Tucson and Santa Fe crossovers.