California Car Sales Jump Double Digits in 2015

AP Photo
The Associated Press
Newport Beach, CA

California is now the hottest place on the planet to sell new cars, especially if they are gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs from Detroit.

Although California may have the reputation as the “girly man” state due to all the extreme environmentalist politics, red-blooded Americans are swarming to Detroit Big 3 showrooms in the Golden State, looking for big trucks and SUVs that are benefiting from gasoline selling at an average price for regular unleaded of $2.38 a gallon.

Total vehicle sales in the United States finished the year at a 17.34 million pace in December of 2015. That compares to the monthly average U.S. annualized sales rate from 1993 through January 2016 of 15.37 million. The all-time-high rate was 21.77 million in October of 2001, and the record low pace was 9.05 million in February of 2009, according to Autodata.

But after years of being a very poor state performer, total new car sales in California rose to 2.05 million, up 11.1 percent in 2015. That compares to only a 5.2 percent average gain in car sales reported for the rest of the United States.

The Honda Civic remained the best-selling individual new car in California last year, with 79,656 sales. That was just barely ahead of the Honda Accord at 73,505, and the Toyota Prius at 72,040.

But the big domestic auto companies — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler — are leading the sales growth as their combined sales increased 14.4 percent during the first half of the year, far ahead of their 2.5 percent national gain. By year end, the Detroit Big 3’s share of the California market grew to 28.4 percent, up almost a full percentage point from the same period a year ago.

Jeep, with a 34.4 percent sales gain, and Chevrolet ,with a 13.8 percent gain, were the 2015 industry standouts in California. The American-built car gains came at the expense of the Japanese brands that saw their market share tick down to 48 percent from 49 percent.

The combination of very low fuel prices, high demand for light trucks, and strong consumer affordability is driving U.S. brand sales momentum in California. Among light trucks, the Ford F Series was the top seller at 44,369, followed by the Chevrolet Silverado, which sold 39,157 units.

What was out of fashion in 2015 and continuing its three-year decline was sales of hybrid and rechargeable cars. Hybrids were down to just 5.5 percent of California auto sales in 2015, versus 6.2 percent in 2014. Plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles shriveled to 2.9 percent of the market, down from 3.1 percent last year.

In what could be an alarming trend for California-based Tesla, the Chevrolet Volt with 996 U.S. sales in January outsold Tesla, with just 850 sales.