Editor's note: An earlier version of this story provided incorrect context for December's SAAR. It was the lowest since June.
The U.S. auto industry set a sales record in 2015 as solid December gains by the biggest automakers pushed the annual tally above the 17,402,486 mark set in 2000.
Automakers chalked up 17,470,659 light-vehicle sales last year, an increase of 5.7 percent over 2014, according to the Automotive News Data Center. The December increase of 8.9 percent was one of the year’s strongest, while the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate came in at 17.3 million, the lowest since June.
Among the largest automakers, Nissan Motor Co. was the biggest gainer, with a 19 percent jump from December 2014 levels. FCA US climbed 13 percent. Volume rose 11 percent at Toyota Motor Corp. and 10 percent at Honda Motor Co. Ford Motor Co. volume increased 8.3 percent while General Motors deliveries rose 5.7 percent.
Heading into today, most analysts had forecast a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate above 18 million and a 12-month total of 17.5 million light vehicles. GM and FCA said today the SAAR would come in slightly below 18 million.
U.S. sales continue to be driven by low gasoline prices, pent-up demand, widespread credit availability, an increase in leasing and employment gains.
Trucks, SUVs and crossovers continued to set the pace, jumping 19 percent in December and 13 percent in 2015. Car demand remains weak, falling 3.8 percent last month and 2.3 percent for the year.
“2015 was a standout year for the auto industry,” Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager for the Toyota division, said in a statement. “Best-ever light truck sales helped the Toyota division earn the retail sales crown for the fourth consecutive year.”
Volume rose 12 percent at the Toyota brand, 3.8 percent at Lexus and 44 percent at Scion last month.