Japan’s automakers achieve record U.S. sales in 2015


Japanese automakers logged record sales in the United States in 2015 as the overall market swelled to an unprecedented level, driven by the stronger economy and robust demand for sport utility vehicles and trucks, Autodata Corp. data showed Tuesday.

Manufacturers sold 17.47 million cars in 2015, up 5.7 percent from the year before. The figure broke the previous record of 17.40 million cars sold in 2000, according to the U.S. research company.

Low fuel prices intensified the shift toward SUVs and pickup trucks and away from hybrid and electric vehicles. Light trucks made up 52.1 percent of the market in 2015, compared to 50.1 percent in 2014 and 48.8 percent in 2013, according to Autodata.

Toyota group Vice President Bill Fay said in a sales conference call that “2015 was a standout year . . . primarily because of an improving labor market, declining gas prices, affordable interest rates and an overall stronger economy.”

“Perhaps the biggest story of the year has been the growth of the total light truck share in the industry,” he said.

Among Japanese automakers, Toyota Motor Corp. reported all-time high sales of 344,601 for its Lexus luxury brand, up 10.7 percent. Toyota’s overall sales expanded 5.3 percent to 2,499,313 units — its third-best annual result after 2.62 million in 2007 and 2.54 million in 2006. Japan’s top automaker was the third-largest player in the United States.

“December closed out an all-time, best-ever year with sales we couldn’t have predicted,” Lexus group Vice President Jeff Bracken said in a press release, adding that the brand is “well positioned for 2016.”

Honda Motor Co. set an annual record with 1,586,551 cars sold in the year, up 3 percent, making it the fifth-largest automaker in the country. Honda said its light truck sales also set a new record with 770,424 sold in the year, up 9.7 percent.

Nissan Motor Co. also set a record, selling 1,484,918 cars in the year, up 7.1 percent. Nissan said sales of its light trucks and SUVs in its namesake division were up 20 percent, with three models breaking annual sales records.

Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the maker of Subaru cars, continued its expansion in the U.S. market, selling 582,675 cars in the year, up 13.4 percent. The company said 2015 was the seventh consecutive year it set a sales record.

“December represented the best month ever for Subaru of America, capping off the best year in the company’s history in both sales and market share,” Jeff Walters, senior vice president of the U.S. subsidiary, said in a statement.

The strong results came despite double-digit declines for Japanese automakers’ hybrid and electric vehicles, with Toyota and Honda posting 11 percent and 24 percent drops, respectively, in their hybrid lineups. Nissan said sales of its all-electric Leaf plummeted almost 43 percent compared with 2014.

The big three U.S. automakers posted strong annual gains, ending the year on a positive note, with the largest automaker, General Motors Co., up 5 percent, the second-largest, Ford Motor Co., up 5.3 percent and the fourth-largest, FCA US LLC, up 7.7 percent.

“The U.S. economy continues to expand and the most important factors that drive demand for new vehicles are in place, so we expect to see a second consecutive year of record industry sales in 2016,” Mustafa Mohatarem, GM’s chief economist, said.