U.S. sales for each of the five largest auto brands — Ford, Toyota, Chevrolet, Honda and Nissan — declined in 2018. But the No. 6 brand, Jeep, grew enough to keep the entire industry in the black for the year.
Jeep's 17 percent surge propelled U.S. light-vehicle volume to 17.3 million, 0.6 percent more than in 2017 and the fourth-highest of all time.
All together, automakers sold about 96,000 more vehicles than the previous year. Jeep alone gained by nearly 145,000.
"Clearly, Jeep's been killing it," said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive. Chesbrough said Jeep, a brand synonymous with rugged utility, had the "right portfolio at the right time."
Subaru, with its all-wheel-drive wagons and crossovers, also hit it big in a year when light trucks accounted for a record 69 percent of the market. The Japanese automaker leapfrogged Hyundai to rank seventh with a 10th consecutive year of record U.S. sales.
Going into 2018, most analysts expected the market to soften. But healthy consumer confidence, low fuel prices and higher fleet deliveries helped push sales above 17 million vehicles for the fourth year in a row.
FCA US led the way among major automakers, with both Ram and Jeep contributing to an 8.5 percent gain.
Only one other brand came close to Jeep's volume increase: Tesla, whose sales nearly quadrupled to an estimated 182,400. It, too, outgained the entire industry by itself.