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December 2014 Auto Sales: Most Automakers Enjoy a Great Year, See 2015 as Path Paved in Gold

December 2014 Auto Sales: Most Automakers Enjoy a Great Year, See 2015 as Path Paved in Gold

By Jeff Youngs, January 08, 2015

Low gas prices, low interest rates, an improved economic outlook, and compelling deals drove what Automotive News called a "stellar 2014" and a "blockbuster December" for auto sales. Automakers and industry analysts are predicting that these same market forces will make 2015 similarly successful for the industry.

Fred Diaz, senior vice president of U.S. sales, marketing, and operations for Nissan North America, told Automotive News: "We expect low gas prices and high consumer confidence to be the magic formula that continues to bring more buyers into dealer showrooms." Mustafa Mohatarem, chief economist for General Motors, said: "Car-buying fundamentals remain strong and we expect higher industry sales in 2015."

Based on Automotive News sales data, Americans bought more pickup trucks, SUVs, crossovers, and minivans than they did cars in each month of 2014. According to the final tally, light-truck sales were up 20% last year, while car sales increased just 1%. However, the industry trade journal's data shows that the less-profitable small SUVs and crossovers "are driving the market."

This observation lends credence to continued warnings from Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas, who said: "U.S. auto sales are dancing to a very different, and we believe unsustainable, beat." Jonas says demand for new vehicles has outpaced key U.S. economic indicators and that monthly payments are manageable only due to easy credit and extended loan terms.

At the same time, though, Kelley Blue Book (KBB) reports that people are spending more money on new vehicles than ever, citing an average new-vehicle transaction price that rose to $34,367 in December. That represents a 3% increase over the same month in 2013 and is the highest average transaction price on record. Given plummeting gas prices, only hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles saw pricing erosion, according to KBB.

Highlights: December 2014 Car Sales
In 2009, during the depths of the economic slowdown, automakers sold 10.4 million vehicles in the United States. In 2014, more than 16.5 million vehicles were sold, with nearly 30% of brands achieving new annual sales records, according to Automotive News.

Following are additional details regarding December 2014 and combined 2014 auto sales for each major automaker:

American Honda--Compared with the same month last year, American Honda sales rose 2% in December, with Acura climbing 13%. For 2014, annual sales rose 1% over 2013. While slight, this improvement proved robust enough to set an annual sales record for the Japanese automaker.

BMW Group--Sales increased 9% in December, and BMW Group finished 2014 with a 5% increase over the previous year. Additionally, the BMW brand outsold Mercedes-Benz in 2014, making it the most popular luxury brand in America. Mini sales continue to struggle, though, turning in a flat December performance and declining 16% for the year.

Daimler AG--Sales improved 4% in December, and 7% for all of 2014 from last year, but Mercedes-Benz did not remain the best-selling luxury brand in America. Though a nearly invisible contributor to overall sales, Daimler's Smart brand was up 14% in December and 13% for the year, an achievement earned in spite of low gas prices and a redesigned Fortwo model that's about to go on sale.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles--The collection of brands now called FCA saw a 20% sales increase in December, contributing to an annual sales gain of 17%, compared with 2013. Chrysler brand sales rose 53% in December, giving it a 2% gain for the year. Dodge brand sales continue to slide as it transitions from a mainstream offering to a performance-oriented brand, dropping 2% in December and 4% for the year. Jeep, Ram, and Maserati sales remain strong.

Ford Motor Company--Sales of Ford and Lincoln models rose 1% in December, but, overall, the automaker's annual sales fell 1% from last year. Lincoln proved strong in 2014 with a 16% gain, but that improvement could not offset the negative sales impact associated with the launch of the redesigned F-150 pickup truck, the best-selling model--car or truck--in America.

General Motors--Together, GM brands improved 19% in December to finish off a year in which overall sales increased by 5%. Buick, Chevrolet, and GMC delivered robust gains in December and for 2014. Cadillac sales continued to decline despite new ATS, CTS, and Escalade models, dropping 11% in December and 6% for the year. In fact, in 2014, Audi outsold Cadillac for the first time in history.

Hyundai Group--Hyundai and Kia sales collectively rose 14% in December and 4% for all 12 months of 2014, compared with 2013. Kia's increasing popularity with car buyers fueled the gains, the brand posting a 36% increase in December and an 8% rise in annual sales. Comparatively, Hyundai brand sales remain relatively flat.

Jaguar Land Rover--Jaguar and Land Rover sold a total of 276 more vehicles in 2014 than in 2013, resulting in a flat year-over-year sales performance. Nearly half of that increase came in December, when sales rose 2%.

Mazda--For the first time in 20 years, Mazda has sold more than 300,000 vehicles in the U.S. market. Sales increased 8% in December, and Mazda finished the year with an 8% increase, compared with 2013.

Mitsubishi--Mitsubishi enjoyed a 25% increase in total sales in 2014, compared with 2013, thanks to the new Mirage small car and the continued popularity of the Outlander Sport model. In December, sales increased 2% over the same month in 2013.

Nissan Group--Nissan Group set a new annual sales record in the United States in 2014, its dealers moving 11% more cars, trucks, and SUVs than in 2013. A December sales increase of 7% contributed to this success, and Leaf electric car sales surpassed 30,000 units despite falling gas prices. Luxury brand Infiniti continued to struggle, however. The brand experienced a 9% decline in December and a year-over-year annual sales gain of just 1%, despite a complete redesign for its Q50 volume-selling model.

Subaru--For the first time in history, Subaru sold more than 500,000 vehicles in the United States. Sales rose 24% in December, contributing to a 21% annual sales gain over last year.

Tesla--Tesla's December sales rose 190% over the same month in the previous year, and the electric vehicle maker enjoyed an annual sales gain of 25% over the previous year.

Toyota Group--Lexus enjoyed its best December sales ever, a month executives at the brand will surely remember. The achievement helped fuel an overall 13% gain in December sales for Toyota Group, and the company finished 2014 with a 6% increase over the prior year. Furthermore, the Toyota Camry remains the best-selling passenger car in America.

Volkswagen Group--In 2014, Audi surpassed Cadillac to become the fourth-best-selling luxury brand in America after BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus. Audi sales increased 15% for the year, while Porsche improved by 11%. Nevertheless, these gains were offset by the Volkswagen brand's 10% decline in U.S. sales, and as a whole the Volkswagen Group's sales declined 2% in 2014. December sales did not help. All Volkswagen Group brands turned in a flat or negative performance in the final month of the year, except for Audi.

Volvo--Volvo sales rose 1% in December, but the company's annual sales saw an 8% decline. A new 2016 XC90 SUV is ready to debut, though, and Volvo has more new models planned in the next few years.

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