Car sales best since at least 2006

Posted at 11:13 AM, Jan 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-05 11:13:52-05

NEW YORK — The auto industry is expected to cap its best year for U.S. sales since at least 2006 when it reports December sales results Monday.

Sales are being lifted by a variety of factors, including cheap gas prices, steady gains in the jobs market and the stock market near record highs, all of which can encourage buyers who had been putting off purchases to return to showrooms.

Increased availability of auto loans, especially to buyers with weaker credit histories, also helped to feed sales.

A record number of car recalls did little to scare away buyers. The 60 million recalled cars may actually have helped sales in the end, as owners of some of the older models that were cited for safety problems returned to dealerships to have their cars repaired and found deals on new cars.

Full-year sales were certain to top 16.4 million for the first time since 2006. That was two years before the recession and the problems in the financial markets caused auto sales to plunge and sent General Motors and Chrysler Group hurtling into bankruptcy and government bailouts.

Sales in 2014 are expected to be up nearly 60% from the 10.4 million mark where the industry bottomed out 2009, a much faster recovery than expected at that time.

The low gas prices also encouraged American car buyers to renew their love affair with trucks rather than smaller, fuel efficient cars, as sales of pickups, SUVs and crossover vehicles outpaced car models for the first time in three years.

Forecasts are that auto sales are expected to continue to post further gains once again in 2015, driven by most of the same factors that lifted sales in 2014. TrueCar is forecasting that sales should reach 17 million the first time since 2001.