By on January 6, 2016

2015 Honda CR-V

Record new vehicle sales volume in 2015 was powered largely by growth in the SUV/crossover category and further strengthening by pickup trucks. Flat car sales and declining minivan volume served to impede U.S. auto sales growth.

Prior to 2015, consumers, businesses, and government agencies had not combined to purchase and lease more than 17 million new vehicles since 2001. With 17.47 million sales in 2015, year-over-year volume jumped 6 percent and total new vehicle sales soared 67 percent compared with 2009, when auto sales plunged to their lowest depths during the recession.

Utilities
The rise of the utility vehicle in 2015 wasn’t sudden or surprising. A year ago, SUV/crossover volume jumped 12 percent in a market which grew half that fast, and the segment’s share of the industry rose to 32 percent. In 2015, however, as total new vehicle volume grew 6 percent, utility vehicle sales shot up 16 percent, increasing the segment’s share of the market to 35 percent as car volume fell from 47 percent to 43 percent.

While the SUV/CUV sector was undeniably strengthened by the addition of new nameplates, many of which wouldn’t have merited “SUV” status in the public consciousness when auto sales last climbed this high, numerous top sellers increased their level of dominance. The Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Ford Explorer, Jeep Cherokee, and Honda Pilotall listed among America’s 15 most popular utility vehicles – grew faster than the SUV/CUV market average in 2015. The best-selling Honda CR-V, meanwhile, posted a 3-percent gain and broke its own annual sales record by 10,628 units.

That said, the newbies — Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X, and Mazda CX-3, none of which generated any U.S. sales activity in 2014 — added 182,000 sales to the ledger in calendar year 2015. Their subcompact SUV/CUV class posted a collective 96 percent, year-over-year sales increase built in part due to their additional sales; in part due to growth of established models.

On the flip side, subcompact cars, never a supremely high-volume category in the United States, tumbled 6 percent in 2015. America’s most popular car in 2015 continued to be the midsize Toyota Camry, a nameplate which has now topped the passenger car leaderboard in 14 consecutive years. (The CR-V’s SUV leadership dates back to 2012.)

2016 Toyota Tacoma blue

Trucks
The Ford F-Series was America’s pickup truck sales leader in 2015. However, for the first time since 2009, the F-Series was outsold by General Motors’ full-size twins: the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. F-Series volume increased rapidly in the final quarter of 2015, but the GM twins saw their full-size truck market share rise to 38 percent from 36 percent in 2014. For the F-Series, sales in 2015 rose to the highest level since 2006. Chevrolet Silverado sales hit an eight-year peak while GMC Sierra sales climbed to the greatest total since 2005. The Ram truck line, meanwhile, achieved record high sales of 451,116 units, outperforming the previous record of 449,371 units from 2003.

Pickup truck sales were further bolstered in 2015 by greater availability of the new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, midsize pickups which arrived late last year. The Toyota Tacoma is still America’s best-selling non-full-size truck, but even the Tacoma sales increased as the competition for midsize truck buyers increased in 2015. The sub-category’s total volume jumped 41 percent and the Tacoma, Colorado, Nissan Frontier, Canyon, and Honda Ridgeline combined for 14-percent market share, up from 11 percent in 2014.

Truck-centric even without the addition of 114,507 Colorado and Canyon sales to the company’s U.S. sales tally, GM was even more so in 2015. The best-selling automaker in America reported a 5-percent overall sales increase in 2015 as the company’s four pickup truck lines contributed 30 percent of the volume thanks to the foursome’s 25-percent volume increase in 2015. GM’s other products combined for a 2-percent decrease. Obviously, GM is nothing like the force it was in the pre-recession era — GM owned 24 percent of the U.S. market as recently as 2007 — but the company’s market share in 2015 was just south of stable, slightly below 18 percent.

The maker of America’s best-selling vehicle line is also America’s best-selling new vehicle brand. Ford has led all brands for six consecutive years. In 2015, Blue Oval car sales slipped marginally, but utilities, trucks, and commercial vans propelled the Ford brand to a 5-percent increase.

GM leading all manufacturers, Ford topping all brands, the F-Series and Camry and CR-V on top — these are all entirely conventional elements of the U.S. auto industry. Hints of autonomous driving were more prevalent over the last year, from increasingly common lane keeping assist systems to more frequent installation of pre-collision systems. Though autonomy captures much of the public’s attention, the biggest technological advancement story evidenced by U.S. auto sales figures in 2015 may not have been an advancement at all. Volkswagen’s so called TDI Clean Diesels weren’t so clean after all. Following the eruption of the scandal in mid-September, Volkswagen couldn’t sell any of the vehicles that typically accounted for one-fifth of the brand’s volume in America. Already struggling before news of dirty TDIs broke, Volkswagen volume fell flat in an incentive-laden October; plunged 25 percent, a loss of nearly 8,000 sales, in November; and fell 5 percent in December.

2013-volkswagen-lineup

Losers
Incidentally, the Volkswagen TDI’s chief rivals in the fuel economy race — hybrids — faced their own set of challenges in 2015. With fuel prices consistently low, typically more costly hybrids lack a crucial part of their appeal in comparison with their conventionally powered siblings. As a result, through the first 11 months of 2015, hybrid sales plunged 16 percent.

Americans registered more new vehicles in 2015 than at any point in history. This certainly doesn’t mean the list of losers isn’t a long one. Smart, Bentley, Dodge, Maserati, Jaguar, Fiat, Scion, and Buick all joined Volkswagen on the list of brands which sold less often in 2015 than in 2014.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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44 Comments on “This Is How U.S. Auto Sales Volume Hit a Record High in 2015...”


  • avatar
    Hummer

    4Runner was only 3,000 shy of breaking that 100,000 mark. Hopefully 16 will debut a couple more SUVs, it’s a segment that really needs attention, the wrangler is possibly the only SUV that we have left that’s somewhat utilitarian, and I say somewhat because they’re still using plastic bumpers.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      The 4Runner’s recent renaissance is a strange phenomena. Even before gas prices tanked, the mid cycle refresh pulled the 4Runner out of the 50k/year sales volume up to the 70k range. The mid cycle refresh did a lot to improve the interior (materials, looks) and exterior (looks on the TE, SR5), but the drivetrain stayed the same and the technology offered was pretty much the same. The price even shot up a bit in that time as navigation and touch screen became standard. Hopefully nearly hitting 100k is enough to justify keeping it around when CAFE regs really hit.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Gotta keep selling those Corollas and Priuses. I wonder if Toyota will have to put a different engine in the 4Runner.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          Probably the half-Atkinson V6 in the new Taco.

          • 0 avatar
            Quentin

            I think that the 8AT is the obvious upgrade over the reliable but widely spaced 5AT. The 3.5L would be more likely if the 4Runner went on a substantial diet as the lighter Tacoma seems to be the upper limit on what the 3.5L will effectively motivate.

            100k units/yr for the 4Runner might be enough that they are willing to invest in weight reduction while keeping body on frame construction… or it might put it in no man’s land where they’d have to invest in aluminum construction to get the weight down on the US centric 4Runner but it would then deviate from the vehicles that it shares hard points. Tacoma is probably easier to justify heavy investment in 2025 as it outsells the 4Runner and it has bespoke assembly plants*. I don’t think throwing powertrains at it will get it to those strict standards.

            To be honest, part of the reason I was OK going with the current 4Runner instead of waiting for the next generation is that I don’t know that the next generation is going to be what I want out of a 4Runner if it comes at all. I can see the writing on the wall that true niche vehicles are going to go the wayside or be assimilated.

            *It does share with Tundra at Texas. Tundra will have to do the weight reduction thing as well, so that whole plant can be rolled over to Al if needed.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          I sure hope the 4Runner doesn’t get the 3.5L, from what I’ve heard from taco owners you can feel those couple lbs of torque that truck lost.
          I’m doing all over 20MPG in my 4Runner which is better than the real world of a lot of these CUVs.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Instrumented tests suggest the truck is slower with the 3.5 as well. In C&D testing, it was over a second slower to 60 than the old 4.0. That’s bound to be very noticeable out on the road.

            If real world mpg isn’t quite a bit higher as a benefit, it seems like the Taco took a step back in the powertrain department.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        Quentin, I think the 4Runners sales spike is somewhat warranted, it is alone in the midsize [Edit: non-lux] non-wrangler SUV segment, there are 0 competitors, and further to that the 4Runner still has a couple problems. The price was probably my biggest issue, it’s so small (for me) and I’m not particularly impressed with the smaller engine, and to pay over 30k for that wasn’t exactly a decision I made overnight. The lack of auto headlights in a 2016 still has me confused, it’s the first vehicle in 14 years that hasn’t had auto headlights.

        I love the 5th window so much it’s almost an obsession and the large windows and great visibility is rare today which I’m happy about.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Right. It and its Lexus GX 460 platform sister are the only two BOF mid-sized SUVs still on the market.

        • 0 avatar
          Quentin

          The 4Runner certainly isn’t tech laden considering how much it costs. Our dearly departed 2014 Rav4 Limited, which was replaced by the 4Runner after a head on collision, stickered for $33k and was equipped with auto dimming high beams, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, JBL stereo, memory driver seat, proximity unlock, push button start, and power liftgate. The 4Runner Trail Edition Premium w/ KDSS that I bought has none of those things and stickered for $41k.

      • 0 avatar
        Speed3

        I think one factor in the 4Runner’s sales is that both the X-Terra and FJ Cruiser have been phased out. Certainly the 4Runner captured some of those sales.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      Similar to Australia, in the growth of categories. On track on a per capita basis, as regards overall sales

  • avatar
    zip89105

    Not exactly sure how all that mumbo jumbo contributed to record car sales, but myself & others replacing 12 year old vehicles contributed a large margin.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      And if the buyer had to borrow money to make the purchase, the credit requirement (FICO) and repayment terms were insanely low.

      My advise remains that from now until the Nov 2016 elections in the US, this still is the best time to buy.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Is it time to retire the SUV vs. sedan distinction?

    It only makes sense to auto journalists. A 2016 crossover is less of a truck than my Dad’s Caprice was, both in architecture and in performance.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      CUV = station wagon in hooker heels.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      I’ve been really hoping people would wise up to the distinction, their is nothing truckish about an escape, yet Ford tries to sell it under the same category that has encompassed everything from the Travelall to the S10 blazer?
      There are still SUVs but it seems the only ones actively marketed are the Wrangler and the Escalade.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        People don’t care that the Escape is an “SUV” that isn’t truckish at all. In fact, it’s better that the Escape isn’t truckish. People see a comfortable vehicle that has AWD and is good at hauling their kids and stuff across suburbia.

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          …and isn’t called a “wagon”. It’s an old meme around here, but I honestly wonder what would happen to sales if it were. Would the RAV4 really sell 300K units a year if Toyota called it the Camry Alltrac Wagon?

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Isn’t the RAV4 on a platform that is smaller than the Camry. Corolla Alltrac Wagon anyone?

            Highlander is Camry platform based. I love my 2010 Camry Alltrac wagon with seating for 7. It’s so quiet and soft riding I’ve almost forgotten my GM B-body love.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Only on forums like this does that have any relevance. No one knows what platform their car is on. They look at interior space, legroom, price, ability to haul the family and cargo. By those measures, the RAV4 is a midsizer. It weighs more than a Camry and carries its powertrain under the hood.

            It’s a Camry wagon in the marketplace, gol’ durn it.

          • 0 avatar
            Zoom

            CUV’s aren’t wagons. They aren’t even jacked up wagons.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            “CUV’s aren’t wagons.”

            They are hatchbacks. The CR-V and Escape are almost the same size and shape as a Pacer, and that wasn’t a wagon. Unless it was an actual The Pacer wagon, but I’m talking about the more common Pacer hatchback.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            My MkT is a jacked up wagon that looks weird.

            I think that the bigger 7+ passenger CUVs are wagons, and the 5 passenger CUVs are hatchbacks. There is no hard and fast rule. That’s just based on observation and what roles they fill.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            “CUV’s aren’t wagons”

            The horrible B-segment CUVs like HR-V and Trax aren’t, but I’m talking about things like the Escape and Rav4.

            Those have clearly separated C & D pillars, plenty of overhang behind the rear wheels, and some have nearly 40 cubic feet of seats-up storage back there. What else does it need to qualify?

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The Travelall is a Wagon and was clearly marketed as such throughout its entire lifetime. The Scout was International’s SUV and marketed as such after Ford coined the term. Of course that didn’t mean what it does today as Ford first applied that term to the cab top equipped Broncos.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          Actually I knew the Travelall was marketed as a wagon, I just gambled that no one else would know haha.
          Gamble lost.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Marketed as “The top towing Wagon” specifically in a number of years.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            The TravelAll was marketed as the agricultural equivalent of the Suburban. I owned a brand new 1971 1010 with the 392, vinyl wood-grain siding and all.

            When I got orders to go to Germany I had to trade it for a 1972 Olds Custom Cruiser 455.

            There were no IHC dealers or service centers in Europe.

  • avatar

    The entire North American market (US/Canada) is migrating from sedans to “utilities”. The current crop of utilities is closer to station wagons with a higher ride height than trucks.
    Record sales in the US and Canada is good for the industry and all the stakeholders involved in the business.
    With the increased use of “big data” every manufacturer focuses incentives on specific models, for their own strategic reasons. Strong incentives, low interest rates, moves a ton of units. With the customer being the ultimate winner.

  • avatar

    just a few years ago leases wen’t available and you needed a 720 FICO. now leases are being offered for less than used car payments and buyers in the 500s are easily approved. the banks control the industry.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    1973 was a record year, with 15.5 million units sold. America’s population was about 210M. Today it’s 310M.

    85% of those cars were made by the Detroit 3, employing hundreds of thousands of Americans making decent wages. Together with millions of others of Americans in manufacturing, they could afford the cars. Of course there were fewer other consumer items competing for their (then higher) after tax income.

    Now sales are being juiced with cheap loans and easy money. Let’s hope it lasts a long time, since most Americans today can’t afford new wheels.

    Banks won!

    One parallel–most of the ’73 were gas guzzlers that prematurely left the road. Many of today’s cars are bigger and thirstier than need be–cuz that’s what we want….now.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      tomLU86,
      It’s good to see the vehicle sales climb. But, as you pointed out the US population is 322 million now and the number is just average in real terms.

      I don’t know if all of this back slapping is warranted.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    The total number of vehicles sold in 2016 isn’t spectacular as is promoted by the press.

    I do think over 20 million would be worth all of the back slapping.

    Modern vehciles are also more reliable than vehicles in the past. Cheap and creative lending instruments for the consumer has also helped.

    If the US economy was in better shape I wonder what could of been sold?

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      The economic conditions in America under the current administration are not conducive to more than 17.5 million sales of new vehicles.

      And in order to get to that number, lenders had to lower the qualifying credit scores to increase sub-prime lending.

      I expect a lot more lay-offs to be announced during Q1 of 2016. And I expect a lot more repos as well.

      So sales of new vehicles pretty much follow the dividing line between those who have job-security and money, and those who don’t.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        For those not familiar with the state of “the economic conditions in America under the current administration”, they are:
        – Full employment
        – Minimal inflation
        – Stocks with 7% of all time highs

        This is why analysts predict continued success for automakers.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Pass the bong when you get a chance. Thanks.

          Seriously though see if you can did up some utility bills from say 2010 and compare them to 2015 ones. Official inflation somewhere in the 2% arena per annum so 10% in five years, but for S&G make it 15%. The cable I had went up over 1/3rd (int/basic cable late 2009: $44, int/basic cable: $66 before dropping it in Nov 2015, or 40%) and my electric went up about 1/3rd ($19 in 2014, $30 currently as of Dec). I’m seeing some “minimal” inflation indeed.

          Yes we can [wreck the world].

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Balancing your utility bill inflation is your gas spend, which is half what it was 5 years ago.

            The business you know best is cars, right? New car pricing has been pretty flat for the last decade or two. Used cars went up quite a bit in 2009-2011, but that was because they were abnormally depressed by the great recession.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Commodities deflation is incidental and could theoretically rise again at any time. Your bills won’t automagically go down when this occurs.

            Comcast has no right to raise rates 40%, they do it because they are “in the club” and engage in monopolistic, or duopolistic behavior if there is actually one other competitor (i.e. Verizon). There was a time when companies were broken up if they got to such a point, but it seems this time has past.

            The electric company is cute too, they “compete” through deregulation but there are four “fees” on my bills. They only compete on one of the four (“supply” IIRC) and its within a cent or two per kWH per utility co. Distribution, transmission, and my favorite, customer charge are non-negotiable (in fact I think the bill said “transmission” rate is regulated by the feds). Many months the “supply” part of the bill is less than the “customer charge”, and who regulates the charge? Why the Commonwealth of course. Thanks for having my back, Harrisburg. Ten dollars/mo in the grand scheme of things isn’t the end of the world, but percentage wise YoY? I can see why 26% of adults have no savings.

            https://www.creditdonkey.com/average-american-savings-statistics.html

            Truthfully its not the business I know best but I have some resale knowledge, yes. In order to agree with your statement I’d have to sit and crunch some calculations which I don’t have the time to do right now. Here’s what I can say off of the top of my head: the 2004-2008ish period saw the end of many legacy models and motors, esp from the Detroit 3. Legacy meant: cheaper to build/sell, cheaper resale due to lack of used demand, usually better reliability used. We all know what happened next but what many don’t realize is for many mfgs whole new platforms and drivetrains came online which mean the automaker’s costs went up significantly outside of the overall market conditions. So while yes you might have a crop of say MY12s starting to hit the block, many of them will lack the tried and true reliability aspect of an MY01 in 2005/6. One must also factor in decreased materials or labor quality on some models. Derek famously reported on the MY13 MKZephyr’s QC issues… did the 98 Conti or 03 Town Car have similar assembly or materials issues when they were release? We also can’t forget wear items, have you priced tires on the giant 19in wheels these days? Its enough to give you a nosebleed. Pay more, get less, and love it prole.

            Again I would need some data to back this up but for the most part I don’t want to be buying anything that’s used right now. The stuff I like to buy used is getting long in the tooth and the new-used stuff is questionable. The business model I am seeing becoming commonplace is leasing, but with leasing you give up not only equity but also incidentals while accepting mileage limitations (which are a total sham) and cosmetic features damage (the dealer can ding you for minor stuff on *their* car at lease return whereas on trade it would be ignored).

            One of my siblings is in the market and due to his life changes will require a vehicle literally in the next few days. I accompanied him to a Subaru dealer on Sat and was a bit taken aback, not by the product or salesperson specifically but the process this dealer employed (no talk of trade, no negotiation at all, would not let us see the sales contract, would not run credit unless there was an oral agreement to purchase). I’m thinking Whiskey Tango Foxtrot do you want the sale or not? He didn’t seem to interested which I found odd. My advice was Subaru or Camry for resale purposes. He has it in his head Hondas suck in the snow we get around here from his gf’s Civic (I really have no idea myself having not driven a Honda in snow for a decade). Pickup trucks cost too much and other products such as Fusion or say 200 to throw out some Detroit 3, I don’t trust new for both reliability and resale reasons. For my money >20K its Mustang GT, Lexus something off the block, or pickup truck for the debt loaded win. Nothing else really appeals to me.

            Caveat Emptor

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            28-Cars-Later, maybe the current economic conditions in America suit VoGo.

            I’ve known better times, as have millions of others in America.

            But it really is a moot point, and not reply worthy.

            The current administration is on the way out, and history will record their record as even worse than that of Jimmy Carter, heretofore the worst president in modern history.

            What the future holds, who will be elected in Nov 2016, what world events will shape our economy, no one knows at this juncture.

            And even that is really immaterial because those who can, are redefining their own destiny. Those who can’t, not so much.

            The working class? That’s another matter entirely. They’re the ones who have to pay for it all, and stick around to pick up the pieces.

            So I say, let them determine what they want just like they did in 2008 and 2012. They got exactly what they deserved.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            @HighdesertCat
            On a per capita basis our sales would be 17.8 million units if we were the size of the US. Still our economy is not firing.
            Maybe the naysayers could be right about the US economy?

  • avatar
    John

    I would be really interested in the answer to this:
    What percentage of new vehicles were sold for cash, or 36 – 48 month terms to people with good credit vs. what percentage were sold with terms of 60 months plus and/or to people with poor credit?

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      John, “sold for cash” must be defined more clearly because a dealership recognizes a “sold for cash” transaction when the buyer self-finances with a bank or credit union, as well as paying with personal funds.

      Financing on terms can be done with a financial arm of the automaker, or, through a dealer+financial institution arrangement, both of which result in some kind of kickback to the dealer.

      Poor credit is no longer a consideration these days, hence sub-prime loans. Poor credit may affect the down-payment and APR a buyer has to forfeit, but those are the trade-offs.

      I expect repos to increase starting in 2016. Too many lay-offs still coming our way. We ain’t seen nothing yet.


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