Americans set record for car-buying in 2015

January 12, 2016 10:54 AM

Car sales soared in the U.S. this past year, setting a new record for the number of vehicles Americans bought.

That's the news from the latest end-of-year figures. In 2015, Americans bought an astonishing 17.5 million cars and trucks, according to WardsAuto. That beats the previous record, set way back in 2000 before the Great Recession, when Americans purchased 17.3 million vehicles, the Washington Post reported.

Jobs, gas and credit
So what's behind this unprecedented wave of folks driving new cars off the lot? Simply put, it's the economy finally producing enough jobs and enough confidence in the holders of those jobs that they can afford to take on a car payment. Plummeting gas prices have also played a big role in more Americans deciding to get behind the wheel of a new automobile.

"Gas has fallen to a national average of less than $2 a gallon."

As Car & Driver pointed out, unemployment has fallen to 5 percent, which most economists consider full employment. While that figure doesn't take into account people who've stopped looking for work, it's still a good number.

The tumble in gas prices has also changed the calculus of whether a family can afford to invest in a new car. Not only do today's lower prices per gallon cut down the costs of commuting, but they influence what type of car or truck a person might buy. Gas has fallen to a national average of less than $2 a gallon, according to AAA. That has translated into surging sales for SUVs and trucks.

One can't discount one other factor - car loans have been easier and easier to get. For folks with good credit, car loans in the 3-percent range were not uncommon in 2015. While some experts have warned of a bubble forming in the auto loan market similar to the one that popped in real estate in 2007-2008, easy money has been helping move units off of dealership lots.

Sales records set
So with this trifecta of steady paychecks, cheap gas and attractive loan terms, which makes did Americans buy the most? It's a long list, but here are the manufacturers who set U.S. sales records in the last 12 months:

  • Audi
  • BMW
  • Jeep
  • Honda
  • Hyundai
  • Land Rover
  • Kia
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Nissan
  • Porsche
  • Subaru

One name you won't see on that list is, of course, Volkswagen. Its U.S. sales tanked as a result of the diesel engine emissions control scandal. But there was a bright spot for VW: Its Tiguan set a record for U.S. sales, one of 32 other models which did the same in 2015.

If you bought a new vehicle in 2015, you'll want to make sure you take good care of it with regular visits to your local car repair shop for scheduled maintenance.

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