Low gasoline prices and pent-up consumer demand should propel new car and light truck sales to an estimated 16.94 million in 2015, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.
The association, whose annual meeting in San Francisco ended Jan. 25., had accurately projected 16.4 million cars and trucks sold in 2014.
This year, total new vehicle sales should break down as 56 percent light trucks and SUVs (a category that includes vans) as well as 44 percent passenger cars.
"We expect to see significant growth in sales of light trucks, particularly in the large-size CUV and SUV segments," said Steven Szakaly, NADA's chief economist. "At the end of the day, consumers like the utility and comfort that larger vehicles provide. Lower gasoline prices accelerate that shift."
The pickup truck segment, in particular, is expected to benefit from an improving housing market, climbing to 15.2 percent this year from 13.7 percent in 2014.
On the downside, small and mid-sized cars should face a tougher market in 2015. In addition, hybrid sales are expected to be slower, as long as oil remains cheap. Mid-size cars are expected to decline in share of total light vehicle sales from 18.6 percent to 17 percent, while small cars are expected to lose 1 percent of share.