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2015 Was a Record Year for New Vehicle Sales: 17.5 Million
Other than the record number of vehicles sold, 17.5 million, what is most notable about 2015 sales is the changing composition of the American passenger vehicle fleet. As the caption under the accompanying graphic states, "car sales remained relatively flat, about 1 million more light trucks and SUVs were wold in 2015, a 13 percent jump from 2014." See below for more precise data.
"But because so much of buyers’ money went toward larger, gas-gulping trucks and SUVs, the sales boom conflicts with (an) administration campaign designed to encourage more efficient engines and less use of gasoline," write Drew Harwell and Steven Mufson for The Washington Post.
Sales of slimmer passenger cars fell 2 percent last year compared with 2014, while sales of light trucks and SUVs soared 13 percent, estimates from industry researcher Autodata show.
It could have been worse. Unlike 2000, when larger SUVs like the Ford Explorer were best-sellers, Americans chose lighter SUVs like the Honda CR-V, which now compose the largest segment of the market at 14 percent, according to The Associated Press. While more fuel efficient than other light truck types (SUVs, pickup trucks and vans weighing <10,000 pounds per U.S. DOT [pdf]), these models are nonetheless displacing more fuel efficient subcompacts, compacts, hybrids, and electric vehicles.
As for those bike and transit-riding, Uber-using millennials living in dense cities who have no use for owning automobiles, they are now causing a "demographic shift" in auto sales, states the moderator in her video interview of TrueCar's Eric Lyman, who indicates that they are now a key driver in auto-sales.
Finally, most auto manufacturers reported record sales. One notable exception was Volkswagen, due to the "defeat device" scandal that is now the subject of a civil complaint filed by U.S. Department of Justice. AFP reports that their U.S. sales fell 5 percent in 2015, not bad considering the "25 percent drop registered in November after VW stopped selling diesel vehicles shown to have been equipped for years with software that intentionally subverted clean-air regulations."