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US Light-Vehicles Set Record in 2016 as Trucks Dominate

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

US sales of light vehicles rose 0.4% in 2016 to set a record as deliveries of trucks dominated the market.

Sales of cars and light trucks totaled 17.55 million last year from a revised 17.48 million for 2015, according to Autodata Corp. (Mahwah, NJ), which compiles sales data.

Light truck sales rose 7.2% to 10.45 million, accounting for 59.5% of the US market. Car deliveries plunged 8.1% to 7.1 million, Autodata said. Cars only accounted for 40.5% of sales.

Strong demand for vehicles has bolstered the auto industry, which has been one of the strongest performers among manufacturing.

However, deliveries had softened in the second half of the year, raising the question whether 2016 would exceed 2015’s former record. At the year’s mid-way mark, total light-vehicle sales had risen 1.5% compared to the same period a year earlier. Through the first 11 months, sales were up only 0.1%.

December sales clinched the record amid end-of-the-year sales and other promotions. Light-vehicle sales rose 3.1% last month to 1.69 million, according to Autodata. Truck deliveries increased 8.3% for the month while car deliveries slid 4.7%.

Sales have increased since a major recession and the US-backed bankruptcies of General Motors Co. and Chrysler in 2009. Some analysts expect deliveries to plateau or decline slightly this year. IHS Markit, for example has forecast that 2017 deliveries will total 17.37 million.

Also, the 2016 sales results show automakers are having to cope with the imbalance between car and truck demand.

“In 2017 automakers will continue to increase supply of the utility vehicles that are in high demand, while also looking at ways to manage production of passenger cars,” Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst with IHS Markit, said in a written comment before the final numbers were released. “Those with older products or a product range misaligned with demand for vehicles…are likely to continue to see trouble spots.”

Adjustments already are underway.

General Motors Co. (Detroit) said in November it’s suspending third shifts at car plants in Ohio and Michigan in this year’s first quarter. The move will cut about 2000 jobs. Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI) reduced North American output in the second half of 2016.

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