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U.S. automakers beat December expectations, may set new yearly sales record

The Big Three U.S. automakers reported figures that could top 2015's record sales mark of about 17.5 million vehicles.

By Doug G. Ware
General Motors on Wednesday reported that sales figures for December increased by 10 percent over the same month in 2015 -- soundly beating analysts' expectations of about 3 percent. GM's increase, combined with better-than-expected performance for the month by Ford and Fiat Chrysler, spurred analysts to forecast a new all-time record high for the American auto industry for 2016 -- which would top the roughly 17.5 million sold the previous year. File Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI
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American automakers performed better than expected in December, putting the industry on track to achieve a new record sales mark for 2016.
Final numbers are still to come, but industry analyst J.D. Power said Wednesday it forecast 2016 sales to surpass the bar set the previous year.
Fueling the expected record were a slew of year-end incentives that pushed car-buyers to dealerships in droves, experts said -- but that will also likely play a role in potentially lower sales this year.
"This year will be remembered for strong retail sales and record transaction prices," Deirdre Borrego, general manager of J.D. Power's automotive data and analytics, said. "However, elevated inventories, a slow model-year transition and record incentive levels point to the challenges the industry will face in 2017."
The U.S. auto industry entered December on the precipice of a new all-time annual record for sales -- poised to top the 17.47 million vehicle-mark set in 2015. However, business was expected to sag slightly (about 2 percent) year-to-year for the month, especially since there was one fewer sales day.
Contrary to expectations, though, it appears sales actually increased by about 1.5 percent, J.D. Power said.
General Motors on Wednesday reported a 10 percent rise from 2015 in its December auto sales -- a sound beating of that predicted by analysts, who expected an increase in the 3 percent range. Sales for Chevrolet, GM's flagship brand, rose nearly 13 percent.
"We finished 2016 with a strong December, reflecting the continued strength of GM's U.S. retail and commercial businesses," Kurt McNeil, GM vice president of U.S. Sales Operations, said in a statement Wednesday. "We begin 2017 well positioned to continue growing our U.S. retail business, driven by all-new products like the Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse being launched into key, growing U.S. market segments."
Ford's boost was much smaller, just 0.3 percent, for the month -- but still beat forecasts, which anticipated a sales decline. Its F-series pickup trucks saw a rise of nearly 3 percent.
Fiat Chrysler turned in the worst December performance of the three -- a decline of 10 percent compared to a year earlier. Nonetheless, even it contributed to the industry boost last month, as experts thought Chrysler would see a decline of 11-12 percent. Individual brands Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat all saw incredible declines for December, but sales of the company's Ram pickup increased more than 10 percent.

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