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Data Point

10 Takeaways from U.S. Auto Sales: A Decade in Review

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December 2019 auto sales came in relatively strong and ahead of many forecasts – a fitting end to a decade that delivered mostly good news for the auto industry. Honestly, though, in the past decade, the only direction possible was up. In 2010, the auto industry was in shambles. The economy had tanked, loans were all but impossible to find, and the auto industry was still limping around in a post-bankruptcy haze. U.S. auto sales finished up in 2010 at 11.5 million, but that was after bouncing off the bottom in 2009.

We live in a different world now. The low point is a distant memory and the decade of recovery has been a good ride. The peak came in 2016 with 17.5 million vehicles sold – up 68% from the bottom in 2009 – and the industry finished “the Teens” rattling off a streak of five straight years above 17 million, according our data team at Kelley Blue Book.

We took a look at all the numbers from the past decade and combed out these 10 data points, just for fun.

  1. The single best sales month in the past decade was December 2016, capping off what was a record-setting year. December and March are often the best months in a given year for sales volume, and only seven times in the past decade have monthly sales eclipsed 1.6 million. Here’s the top five:
  • December 2016: 1,683,408
  • March 2018: 1,648,222
  • May 2015: 1,634,833
  • December 2015: 1,634,329
  • August 2019: 1,632,287
  1. December 2019 beat most forecasts and delivered a strong finish to the year, but in fact December 2019 was only the 26th best-selling month of the decade as measured by Kelley Blue Book: 1,506,401 units sold. It was however, for one company, a notable one. Volvo went out with its best month of the decade, with 12,360 units sold. (Although, worth noting, Volvo had higher sales months prior to the Great Recession.)
  2. What brand delivered the single best monthly sales performance in the past decade? Ford. The Blue Oval is routinely the best-selling brand in the U.S. and it hit a high-water mark for the decade in May 2014 with 244,501, roughly 15.5% of industry sales that month and more than the Smart brand achieved in the entire decade.
  3. Fleet was a growing story in the final years of the decade as the Trump Tax Cuts made fleet purchases more attractive to business. Reviewing available data for fleet sales, six of the Top 10 best months for fleet sales in the past decade occurred after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. In May 2019, an estimated 425,000 vehicles were sold to fleet buyers, a record 27% of total U.S. sales. Fleet, it’s worth noting, generally accounts for 20% of sales in a given month.
  4. There are plenty of contenders for ‘Best Decade Ever’ awards, but whatever list you make, Subaru would have to be on it. When it comes to sales growth, the company did not miss a beat. In 2010, Subaru sold 263,000 vehicles in the U.S. In 2019, they reached 700,000.
  5. Ford sold 7,579,608 F-Series in the past decade; not once was the full-size Ford NOT the best-selling vehicle in America. The best month for the best-selling vehicle? December 2017, when Ford sold 89,385 F-Series, THE stand-out sales performance in the past decade.
  6. In the past decade, we’ve watch the average transaction price (ATP) go up and up. At the end of 2011, the ATP for a new vehicle in the U.S. was near $30,000. In February 2015, ATP for the month was above $33,000 for the first time ($33,056). It broke through $35,000 in June of 2017, and passed $37,000 later that year, in December when transaction prices commonly peak due to the high volume of luxury vehicle sales. Transaction prices were above $38,000 through the final three months of 2019. The Kelley Blue Book ATP in December 2019 was $38,767 – the highest point in the past decade.
  7. Tesla became a thing in the past decade, and a powerful thing indeed. According to Kelley Blue Book estimates, Tesla sold 12 vehicles in June of 2012. And the company has dominated the EV business since, selling 1,000 vehicles in a month for the first time in May 2014. Tesla reached 10,000 a month in March of 2018 and 20,000 later that year, in October as the Model 3 came on line. For Tesla, according to Kelley Blue Book, peak sales in the last decade came in December 2018 when 32,600 vehicles were sold.
  8. The past decade was a great one for the quality and variety of High-Performance Cars. We got everything from the rethought Acura NSX to the new Ford GT and Mercedes AMG GT. This is not a segment for small wallets though, as the ATP routinely tops six figures in a given month. In January 2019, the ATP for the segment peaked for the decade at $121,739. Interestingly, this comes after a Q4 2018 stock market sell off, when the markets plunged week after week. Apparently not everyone took a big loss and year-end bonuses were good.
  9. As we close out the recovery decade, here are the best-selling vehicles in December 2019, as they were for much of the last 10 years. As they say, it has all changed but a lot of it is still the same.
  • Ford F-Series
  • Ram Pickup
  • Chevrolet Silverado
  • Toyota RAV4
  • Chevrolet Equinox
  • Honda CR-V
  • GMC Sierra
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Toyota Camry
  • Honda Civic

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