U.S. light-vehicle sales, led by fatter discounts, strong light-truck demand and solid gains at General Motors, Nissan and Honda in December, hit a record high in 2016.
Overall sales rose by more than 56,000, or 0.3 percent, over the 2015 record. It was the seventh straight year of sales gains, an impressive streak and rebound for an industry that was down on its heels during the Great Recession. Volume rose 3 percent in December, well ahead of forecasts, pushing 2016's final sales tally to 17,539,052 cars and light trucks.
The seasonally adjusted, annualized sales rate hit 18.38 million, the highest pace of the year and fifth-highest of all time.
Prior to today's results, analysts polled by Bloomberg projected that industrywide deliveries would come in at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 17.6 million.
U.S. light-vehicle sales totaled 15.85 million through November. That was just 6,418 ahead of the year-earlier pace, a clear sign the market had hit a plateau.
Yet there was apparently more steam left for December than analysts expected.
Company by company
Volume rose 10 percent at GM for a second straight month. Nissan Motor Co. advanced 9.7 percent and American Honda posted a 6.4 percent gain. Toyota Motor Corp. rose 2 percent and Ford Motor Co. edged up 0.1 percent, while Fiat Chrysler recorded its third straight double-digit decline.
All four of GM’s U.S. brands rose. Chevrolet led the way with a 13 percent increase, followed by GMC (5.8 percent), Cadillac (3.2 percent) and Buick (2.8 percent).
GM said its rental sales rose in December but finished 2016 down nearly 74,000 vehicles, or 18 percent, compared with 2015. The company said its retail deliveries -- a key priority in recent years -- rose more than 3 percent last month.
Nissan Motor's December increase reflected an 8.3 percent gain at its namesake division and a 21 percent jump at Infiniti.
The Nissan division set an all-time record with 1,426,130 U.S. sales in 2016, up 5.5 percent. And in a sign of how strong light-truck demand has become across the industry, the Rogue crossover topped the Altima sedan to become Nissan’s top-selling U.S. model for the first time, with 2016 sales of 329,904, or an increase of 15 percent.
Volume rose 6.9 percent at the Honda division and 1.9 percent at Acura. For the year, Honda Division's U.S. sales rose 4.8 percent to a record 1,476,582.
At Ford Motor, sales were off 0.8 percent at the Ford division and up 18 percent at Lincoln. Toyota said volume edged up 2.6 percent at the Toyota division but slipped 0.5 percent at Lexus last month.
Deliveries dropped 10 percent at FCA US behind a 6 percent decline at Jeep and a 34 percent drop in fleet shipments. Ram was the only FCA US brand to gain last month, with a 10 percent rise. Jeep and Ram posted U.S. sales records last year.
Volume dropped 1.9 percent at Hyundai but rose 0.2 percent at Kia.