Boom! We Look Back at 2015 U.S. Auto Sales, the Best Year Ever

In Focus, News

Boom! We Look Back at 2015 U.S. Auto Sales, the Best Year Ever

Feb 21, 2016

America, you did it. You put 2015 into the record books by buying the most new cars and trucks ever in a single year—more than any year since the automobile was invented.

The final tally, according to WardsAuto, was 17.47 million light-duty vehicles, a 6-percent increase from the 16.51 million sold in 2014. Here’s looking back at what made 2015 a record-setting year for the auto industry.

Boom! We Look Back at 2015 U.S. Auto Sales, the Best Year Ever 1

A Slowly Improving Economy Worked Its Magic

What an amazing concept: When people earn more money, they turn around and spend more money. Unemployment is down to the lowest rate (5 percent) in nearly eight years. Interest rates remain low, despite the Fed’s decision in mid-December to raise its target interest rate by 25 basis points (one-quarter of a percent). Gas prices are at their lowest since March 2009 and, after dropping below $3 per gallon in 2014, proceeded to approach (and in many places, dip below) $2 per gallon for most of 2015. The economy continues to grow, albeit more slowly than most Americans would like, but gross domestic product was up 2 percent in the third quarter and 3.9 percent in the second.

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It’s no wonder that average transaction prices are up, reaching a record $34,428 in December, according to Kelley Blue Book. Zero-interest auto financing abounded, and while it wasn’t available for every car, buyers with good credit were regularly seeing 3 percent or even lower APRs. Also abetted by low interest rates, leasing became more popular than ever, at 27 percent of all light-duty sales. That compares with just under 25 percent in 2014 and about 22 percent in 2012, according to Experian and Edmunds.

Here Are the Individual All-Time Records

Boom! We Look Back at 2015 U.S. Auto Sales, the Best Year Ever 3

With all these favorable numbers, 11 brands posted all-time annual records in the U.S. market: Audi (202,202); BMW (346,023, excluding Mini and Rolls-Royce); Jeep (865,028, representing 39 percent of Fiat Chrysler sales); Honda (1,409,386, excluding Acura); Hyundai (761,710); Land Rover (70,582); Kia (625,818); Mercedes-Benz (372,977, with van sales but excluding Smart); Nissan (1,351,420, excluding Infiniti); Porsche (51,756); and Subaru (582,675).

We counted 33 models that finished 2015 with record annual sales. FCA had the most, at eight (Dodge Dart, Challenger, and Journey; Ram pickups; Jeep Wrangler, Cherokee, Compass, and Patriot). Nissan (Rogue, Versa, NV, and NV200) and Subaru (Forester, WRX, Outback, and Crosstrek) tied with four each. Toyota saw record Corolla, RAV4, and Highlander sales. Kia sold more Forte and Optima models than ever, GMC moved record numbers of Acadias and Terrains, while the Honda CR-V and Acura RDX reached heretofore unseen levels. Finally, the BMW X5, Buick Encore, Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, and Volkswagen Tiguan (hey, there had to be some good news coming from VW) ended the year with their highest-ever sales in the U.S.

Boom! We Look Back at 2015 U.S. Auto Sales, the Best Year Ever 4

Segment Winners

Once again, the country favored trucks, SUVs, and crossovers over normal cars, 57 to 43 percent, versus 2014’s 53/47. Crossovers took 30 percent of the market, followed by 17 percent for both small and mid-size cars. Traditional SUVs took 7 percent, while pickups grabbed 14 percent.

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But the market’s hottest spots are the compact-crossover and mid-size-pickup segments, which gained 57 and 41 percent over 2014. Next up? Compact and mid-size luxury crossovers, with 19- and 23-percent gains. And in case you thought the Navigators and Escalades of the world had died, think again. The large-luxury SUV segment shot up 19 percent. So did traditional muscle/pony cars, which cut a 20-percent bigger slice.

BMW M cars (the actual M models, not the M Sport, M Performance, and other pseudo Ms) rose 68 percent to 14,504 cars, while Mercedes-AMG sold 17,456 vehicles, a 54-percent increase. Even EVs gained 8 percent to 70,823 cars with the Tesla Model S (estimated at 23,618, up 71 percent) leading the way. The Nissan Leaf sank 43 percent, but its 17,269 sales still made it the number-two EV among all plug-in cars, including plug-in hybrids.

Biggest Growers

Aside from cars that placed all-time records, other models made significant gains. Of note, we only selected cars that were available during the entirety of 2014 for proper year-over-year comparisons. We also excluded low-volume models and manufacturers (Ferrari and most boutique brands don’t break out sales by model, plus we don’t yet have full-year registration data).

The all-new C-class had a pretty fine year, up 15 percent to 86,080 cars. To shorten wait times for this hot-selling sedan, Mercedes-Benz cut C-class imports from 65 percent in 2014 to just 6 percent, with the majority steaming out of the company’s plant in Alabama. At BMW, the 4-series outsold the 5-series by 1920 cars (reaching a total of 46,082, up 12 percent). The Mini Cooper, save for the Countryman and Paceman models, had a shining year with a 28-percent jump to 40,120 cars.

The Chrysler 200 racked up impressive stats with a 52-percent gain (177,889 cars). The Ford Mustang? The thoroughly redesigned pony car enjoyed an easy 48-percent hike (122,349). The Cadillac SRX posted a 29-percent gain (68,850) just as it’s about to be replaced by the XT5. Other highlights include the Honda Pilot (136,212 units, up 25 percent), the Hyundai Tucson (63,591, up 34 percent), the Volvo XC60 (26,133, an increase of 36 percent), and our resident favorite roadster, the Mazda MX-5 Miata (8591, plus 81 percent). The Kia Sedona really killed it, gaining 152 percent for a total of 36,755 glorious minivans.

Biggest Losers

Care to guess which automaker posted the only year-over-year decline during these incredible 365 days? It was Volkswagen, which like its peers was riding high until the diesel scandal destroyed the last quarter. VW ended the year down 5 percent. Other individual models rather predictably lost due to age or niche, such as the Ford Taurus (down 22 percent), Audi A5 (22 percent), Mercedes E-class (25 percent), Fiat 500L (37 percent), Smart Fortwo (28 percent), Dodge Grand Caravan (28 percent), Acura RLX (36 percent), and the BMW X1 (37 percent).

We also saw slumping figures for some great cars, such as the Cadillac CTS (down 37 percent), the Jaguar XJ (17 percent), the Nissan Juke (29 percent), and Subaru’s BRZ (29 percent). But hey, even perennial top sellers like the BMW 3-series and the Honda Accord dipped, by 6 and 8 percent, respectively. So to those who sat out this year’s boom we say, don’t feel too bad. There’s always next year.



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