CARS.COM — Ford’s perch atop America’s auto sales pyramid is about as reliable as the sunrise. Pickup-truck shoppers bought 780,354 Ford F-Series pickups in 2015, earning the truck its 34th consecutive title as America’s best-selling car model, according to Ford.
But don’t let the F-Series, or the Chevrolet Silverado or Ram pickups that followed it, take away from some important trends in 2015. Full-size pickup trucks kept up with the overall car market in 2015, but smaller trucks and SUVs stole the show. Awash in new players from GM, smaller pickups saw strong popularity, with sales up 40.8 percent despite Honda pulling the plug — temporarily — on the Ridgeline vehicle.
With fuel prices starting the year low and ending it really low, car shoppers went to town on SUVs. Among non-luxury segments, subcompact SUV sales jumped 75.9 percent as new players from Honda, Mazda, Jeep and Fiat entered the mix. It’s not exactly a new segment; the Nissan Juke hit dealerships back in October 2010, after all. But the SUV class saw new interest from automakers and car shoppers alike.
Compact, mid-size and large crossovers and SUVs also had double-digit sales gains, and most of it came as interest dwindled in non-luxury cars. Subcompact sedans and hatchbacks sales fell 7.4 percent in 2015, and compact and mid-size cars were roughly flat. All told, the gains outweighed the losses, and new-car sales in 2015 ended around 17.5 million units — a record for the auto industry, according to Automotive News.
What happened? In short, consumers outside of the vehicle market felt good. It’s a little bizarre as to why: Quarterly wage growth slowed versus 2014, according to government figures, and turbulent financial markets wreaked havoc in a lot of stock portfolios and retirement accounts. In fact, CNN Money reports that almost 70 percent of investors lost money in 2015.
So why did auto sales do so well? Part of it has to do with turnover. The average car on U.S. roads has been more than 11 years old since 2012, and length of vehicle ownership has also increased steadily. At some point, car drivers will eventually need a replacement — and in 2015, they felt pretty confident about their financial footing to get one. Despite certain economic indicators, consumer confidence grew throughout the year as the housing market showed lots of strength, gas prices fell and unemployment settled to pre-recession levels. Throw in some higher incentives and an upward creep in used-car prices, and new-car sales hit record levels. More people were ready to drive a new vehicle.
Check out the top 10 best-selling cars from 2015: