If kids spent December piling into the loot from Santa, parents spent it piling into the trucks at their local dealership. Detroit’s full-size pickups led the month’s top sellers, followed in fourth place by Honda’s popular SUV, the CR-V. It received a substantial update for 2015, and three months after it hit dealerships, demand is still strong. Despite no big incentives and comparatively little inventory — 34 days’ supply in December versus 67 days a year ago, per Automotive News — shoppers lifted the CR-V past perennial midsize sedan favorites.
It was a trend writ large among all SUVs. Excluding luxury models, small crossovers gained about 12 percent in December. Big three-row crossovers and full-size, truck-based SUVs piled on about 15 percent apiece. Falling fuel prices all month long helped: Between the final helping of Thanksgiving leftovers and the final chorus of “Auld Lang Syne,” a gallon of regular gas dropped some 50 cents nationwide, according to AAA. As of Jan. 2, it averaged just $2.23 per gallon across the country — $1.09 cheaper than it was a year ago.
That bolstered pickup sales, but not for the truck you’d think. Ford’s redesigned 2015 F-150 trickled into dealerships in December, but it’s still in short supply, accounting for less than 10 percent of new F-150 inventory on Cars.com. F-Series sales ebbed (the F-150 accounts for about two-thirds of that), but pickup shoppers snapped up Ram and Chevrolet Silverado trucks. Both had sales gains of more than 30 percent, and neither one did that with big year-over-year incentives.
It wasn’t just gas prices that lifted the tide. New-home construction continued to soar, with housing starts at sustained rates not seen since 2008, according to U.S. Census data. Put it all together, and full-size pickups gained 16.8 percent in December. They closed out the year up around 7 percent.
Shoppers also paid plenty of attention to sedans. The Nissan Altima boomed 30.3 percent in December despite similar year-over-year incentives and virtually no more discontinued Altima coupes. Compact-car shoppers drove the Toyota Corolla to a 33.5 percent gain, albeit versus a weak December 2013. Incentives played little part.
See a theme? Overall prices edged up last month. Incentives actually rose about 3.5 percent across the industry in December, according to Cars.com data, but shoppers also ponied up the cash for pricier vehicles — like trucks and SUVs. In fact, 13 of December’s 19 fastest selling cars were SUVs or trucks, according to Cars.com. Thus, despite a year-over-year uptick for incentives, average transaction prices in December rose about 5 percent. That reverses a trend of falling transaction prices through much of this year. It’s too early to tell how 2015 will pan out in terms of new-car prices, but it could be a year where new cars get more expensive once again.
Here are the top 10 best-selling cars in December. Stay tuned to find out the best-selling cars of 2014.