Dealership Experience

10 takeaways from the last 10 years of U.S. auto sales

Ford trucks reigned supreme over the last decade.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

For decades, Kelley Blue Book has been studying auto sales trends and reporting on those findings. To mark the close of the decade, 2010-2020, KBB looked back at the numbers for the last 10 years and found some surprising things.

The single best sales month was December 2016.

Nico Rosberg 2016 F1 Champtionship

Photo by Getty Images

There was a lot going on in 2016, not the least exciting of which was Nico Rosberg wining the F1 Championship. Automakers sold more vehicles in 2016 than they did at any other point during the decade. The December 2016 sales capped off a record year. Here's the top five months over the decade by volume:

  • 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

Subaru might have had the best decade of everyone.

2020 Subaru Outback

Photo courtesy of Subaru of America, Inc.

Sure, Ford sold a lot of trucks and Nissan saw tremendous early-decade growth in its SUV lineup, but Subaru is the real winner. In 2010, Subaru sold 263,000 vehicles in the U.S. By the end of the decade, in 2019, they sold 700,000. They probably would have sold more but they scaled back production to launch two new vehicles at the end of the decade.

Most forecasts were wrong about December 2019, but that doesn't mean it was a great month.

2020 Ram 1500

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

Analysts forecasted weak sales for the last month of 2019 but the market surprised them delivering a strong result. However, December 2019 was only the 26th best-selling month of the decade according to KBB, which measured 1,506,401 units sold. See the best-selling trucks of 2019 here.

Volvo's best month was the last month of the decade.

2019 Volvo XC60

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car Corporation

Volvo left the decade with the best month it has had in 10 years. The company sold 12,360 units. However, Volvo had higher sales in the months prior to the Great Recession.

Ford delivered the highest monthly sales total of all automakers in the last 10 years.

2019 Ford Focus

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

While some may bemoan the Blue Oval's current state of automotive affairs, they had a really great month five and a half years ago. In May 2014, Ford sold 244,501 vehicles, roughly 15.5% of the entire industry's sales for the month. In that single month, Ford sold more vehicles than Smart did in the entire decade. See the best-selling new cars of 2019 here.

Buyers are spending more on their cars than ever before.

2020 Toyota Highlander

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

According to KBB, "At the end of 2011, the average transaction price (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."

See the best-selling new SUVs of 2019 here.

Tesla came to play.

2019 Tesla Model3

Photo courtesy of Tesla

In 2010 and 2011, Tesla wasn't really on anyone's radar and now it's a household name. KBB estimates that Tesla sold 12 vehicles in June 2012. They reached 10,000 in sales per month in March 2018 and hit peak monthly sales in December 2018 when 32,600 vehicles were sold.

High-performance cars were costliest in January 2019.

2020 Ferrari Roma

Photo courtesy of Ferrari N.V.

Everyone seems to drive a Toyota RAV4 or a Honda Civic. For the select few wealthy enough to enjoy the fruits of the Acura NSX, Ford GT, and anything with a horse logo on it, this decade was kind for options but expensive. KBB says that in January 2019, the ATP for the segment peaked for the decade at $121,739.

With the Trump Tax Cuts came more fleet sales.

2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

According to KBB, "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 percent of total U.S. sales. Fleet, it's worth noting, generally accounts for 20% of sales in a given month."

There was never a time in the last 10 years that the Ford F-Series was not the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.

2020 Ford Super Duty

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ten straight years of month-to-month dominance. Muhammed Ali wasn't even that good. Ford has sold 7,578,608 F-Series pickups in the last decade - one every 41 seconds. The best month for the F-Series was December 2017 where, in a single month, the company sold 89,385 F-Series trucks.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor Group

Hyundai Motor Group, the parent company of Hyundai, has announced the formation of a new unit - New Horizons Studio. The new venture is focused on the development of what Hyundai calls Ultimate Mobility Vehicles (UMVs).

New Horizons Studio is part of Hyundai's larger focus on the future of mobility. Unit workers will work to envision vehicles that wander with "unprecedented mobility". These products will focus on target customers that have unconventional travel needs whether it be to access places they have never been or adapt their mobility limitations to their surroundings.

Hyundai 'Elevate' Walking Car Concept

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor Group

New Horizons Studio is led by Vice President Dr. John Suh, who has held several leadership roles at Hyundai Motor Group since 2011. He served as founding director of Hyundai Ventures, and then led Hyundai CRADLE (Center for Robotic-Augmented Design in Living Experiences) as its founding director based in Silicon Valley. He brings over 35 years of expertise in the automotive and emerging technology sectors, including roles at Stanford University, Palo Alto Research Center (PARC; formerly, Xerox PARC), and General Motors Company.

"We aim to create the world's first transformer-class vehicle, also known as the Ultimate Mobility Vehicle," said Dr. Suh.

Dr. Ernestine Fu will move to New Horizons Studio as Director of Product Management. She has led research on human operator and autonomous vehicle interactions at Stanford University's Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab, as well as scaled emerging technology companies for over nine years as a venture capital partner at Alsop Louie Partners.

The Hyundai Elevate is the first vehicle being developed by the Studio. It debuted at CES 2019 and does not rely solely on wheels to makes it way across urban, suburban, and rural landscapes. The unit sees the Elevate as being able to respond in emergency situations like natural disasters or assist with persons who do not have access to an ADA ramp.

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The 2020 Toyota Yaris punches above its weight.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Folks are always fascinated about what I do for a living. "Oh, you drive a different car every week? That's so exciting!"

What follows is a fairly predictable set of questions. "What's your favorite car?" (Rolls-Royce Wraith). "Have you ever driven on a race track?" (Numerous times.) "What's the fastest you've driven?" (180 MPH in a Porsche Panamera on the Autobahn in Germany.)

But then I'll start asking them questions, trying to learn about what they drive and why. What car do you have and why did you buy it? What other cars did you consider? What do you look for in an automobile?

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris has Toyota looks up front.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It's my own form of market research. I can't review a car if I don't understand who my reader is and how to best guide them. It's part of why I don't dive too deep into horsepower and performance figures — I've found that, performance cars excepted, most vehicles perform adequately for the everyday tasks that people buy them for.

That brings us to this week's car, which is perhaps one of the least-interesting cars I've tested — but in a very good way. The sub-$20,000 2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback is aimed solidly at folks who want an affordable, entry-level vehicle that's safe, practical, and with just a touch of luxury-ishness.

My tester was the (slightly) fancier XLE trim, pricing out at $19,680. It's equipped with an adequate if unexciting 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine churning out a whopping 106-horsepower. The engine might be tiny, but it comes with the added bonus of 32/40/35 mpg (city/highway/combined) fuel economy. It's paired to a six-speed automatic transmission (and a real transmission too, not a continuously variable unit that some folks love to hate).

2020 Toyota Yaris The hatchback is convenient but the car also comes in a sedan variant.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It has 16-inch wheels, a bunch of airbags, LED headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a seven-inch color touch screen complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has push-button start, keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Oh, and there's automatic climate control too, which I've seen missing on cars that cost way more than this.

Here's where things get a bit confusing. Toyota sells the Yaris in other markets around the world, and it's their own in-house vehicle. But the Yaris sold in America is a rebadged Mazda2 that's assembled at Mazda's facility in Salamanca, Mexico. It's related to the Toyota Yaris sedan which used to be called the Scion iA, which is also built by Mazda, but also has the Toyota brand on it.

Whatever.

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris rides okay, about what you’d expect for a sub-$20,000 vehicle.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

I've driven a lot of Mazdas and a lot of Toyotas, and it's obvious to me that this is a Mazda. That's not a bad thing. Mazdas vehicles have punched above their weight for a long time (I had a 2011 Mazda3 for years, and I've praised them frequently in these pages), bringing both upscale materials and design to lower-priced segments. That's true here too. The Mazda2 — I mean, Toyota Yaris Hatchback — doesn't feel like a stripped down econobox. It's small and maneuverable and the engine, though a little noisy, gets you through traffic nicely.

It's a great new car for a teenager or for someone looking to spend as little money on a new car as possible. New cars, after all, come with new car warranties and can appeal to folks who don't want to imagine what came before when buying something used.

The Yaris competes with the Honda Fit, which is a perennial favorite in this class, and it seems a little nicer and a little more polished, though with less rear-seat legroom if you anticipate carrying adults back there.

2020 Toyota Yaris Even low-cost models have an infotainment screen these days.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The front is comfortable and attractive enough, with solid buttons and knobs and dials that are all pleasing to touch and fiddle with (which isn't as common as you'd think). It seems to be a better car than it's bargain-basement price would indicate, with a solid ride, comfortable seats and two reliable names behind it.

I took it to Costco (as I have with all my COVID-era test drives) and, with the 60/40 seats folded down, was able to fill it with ease. It swallowed up toilet paper and paper towels and a case of Diet Dr. Pepper and all manner of other things. It's no Rolls-Royce Wraith, but I'd be happy to recommend the little Yaris to someone looking for a new car that won't break the bank.

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