The U.S. auto industry sold more cars and trucks in 2015 than ever before, with Detroit automakers reporting their best sales since the mid-2000s and many foreign manufacturers recording all-time records.

Led by sales of pickups, sport utility vehicles and crossovers, automakers on Tuesday reported selling 17.47 million vehicles last year – besting the previous record of 17.41 million in 2000. The record was closer than many expected, as December sales came in less than many had projected to end the year.

“A number of factors drove the industry this year, certainly low gas prices helped, coupled with improved fuel efficiency across the board especially in truck and SUVs,” Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said on a call with reporters Tuesday.

The 2015 record is expected to be eclipsed next year. Industry experts predict pent-up demand, low interest rates and favorable economic factors such as low gas prices and consumer confidence to drive auto sales to roughly 18 million in 2016.

Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV reported their best annual U.S. sales since the mid-2000s, while General Motors Co. posted its best sales since 2007. Other automakers – Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. – recorded all-time records.

Topping the sales charts in 2015 was Ford’s F-Series at 780,354 pickups sold — making it America’s best-selling pickup for 39 consecutive years and the best-selling vehicle for 34 straight years. The Ford brand also remained the best-selling brand in the United States for a sixth-straight year.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry midsize sedan was the best-selling car for a 14th-consecutive year, with sales level from 2014 at 429,355. The Japanese automaker’s Corolla was the second best-seller at 363,332, followed by the Honda Accord midsize car at 355,557.

2015 marked the fifth time in the past six years that trucks, including many SUVs and crossovers, have outsold car sales. The utility vehicles accounted for 55.7 percent, or 8.7 million, of vehicles sold last year. That’s the segment’s higest percentage since 2004, according to industry data.

“Low interest rates and low gas prices provided Christmas presents to most carmakers, as the 2015 sales year ended with a bang,” said Jack R. Nerad, Kelley Blue Book executive editorial director and executive market analyst. “The low price of fuel prompted consumers to step up to larger vehicles, most especially crossovers and trucks, which enjoyed record yearly sales.”

KBB reports although pickup trucks from the Detroit automakers were the three best-selling vehicles in 2015, small CUVs now lead the overall industry in terms of market share.

National Automobile Dealers Association Chief Economist Steven Szakaly expects automakers to increase incentives on car sales this year by at least 10 percent, as demand for pickups, crossovers and SUVs continues to rise. He expects sales of trucks to increase to 57 percent of the industry in 2016.

mwayland@detroitnews.com

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