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Auto Sales Are Set to Smash Records for 2015

Inside Car Dealerships Ahead of Motor Vehicle Sales FiguresInside Car Dealerships Ahead of Motor Vehicle Sales Figures
Fiat Chrysler 500s on the lot of an AutoNation FIAT South Bay dealership in Hawthorne, Calif.Photograph by Patrick T. Fallon — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Automakers on Tuesday reported strong U.S. sales in December, indicating that 2015 would smash records, and most forecasters said the new year will be even better.

General Motors (GM) said sales will end at 17.8 million vehicles on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis for the year, topping the previous record of 17.35 million vehicles in 2000 as low gasoline prices, easy credit, and moderate economic growth boosted the industry.

In a Thomson Reuters poll, 38 economists and analysts forecast sales of 18.1 million vehicles.

“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,” said Mustafa Mohatarem, GM’s chief economist.

Mohatarem said the most important factors are employment and growth in personal income, which will remain strong this year.

GM, the top seller in the U.S., said monthly sales rose 5.7% from a year ago, and Ford Motor Co. (F), the No. 2 U.S. automaker, reported a jump of 8%.

Toyota Motor (TM), third in U.S. sales, had a gain of 11%.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) and Nissan Motor Co posted double-digit U.S. sales gains in December, Fiat Chrysler up 13% and Nissan up 19%.

Fiat Chrysler is the No. 4 seller of vehicles in the U.S. market, and Nissan is sixth.

While December sales are likely not to meet expectations, the forecast is for double-digit gains over a year earlier as well as the most vehicles sold in the U.S. market for any December.

Several forecasters, including TrueCar, said 2016 sales will reach 18 million vehicles. Slightly higher interest rates will not significantly affect auto deliveries, said Eric Lyman, TrueCar vice president.

GM said total 2015 sales will be 17.5 million vehicles, matching several forecasts from analysts last week.

The industry has steadily recovered since the 2008-2009 downturn. In 2009, sales hit 10.4 million vehicles.