Sales of pickups, vans, and SUVs to businesses pushed commercial fleet sales 2.7% higher in 2016, which offset a decline in commercial sales of passenger cars, according to Automotive Fleet data.
Eight manufacturers sold 673,689 commercial fleet vehicles, including 569,185 vehicles in the truck category and 104,504 passenger cars. While truck-based sales increased 5.2%, car sales declined 9.1% in the calendar year.
General Motors increased commercial sales 1% in 2016 and reached its highest level since 2007.
"The GM Fleet team ended 2016 with a lot of momentum, and we feel great about the outlook for 2017," said Ed Peper, U.S. vice president of General Motors Fleet. "The growth we are seeing with our small business and commercial customers reflects their optimism about the economy and the strength of our product portfolio."
General Motors cited the redesigned Chevrolet Malibu and Cruze, as well as its Chevrolet Low Cab Forward truck among the reasons sales were bolstered, and said 2017 will bring increased production levels for the new Duramax diesel that powers heavy-duty Chevrolet and GMC pickups, as well as a next-generation Equinox and Traverse SUVs.
Ford sold 1.07 million vans, pickups, and heavy trucks in 2016, with the F-Series nabbing the spot as top-selling vehicle for the 35th consecutive year. Van sales increased 9% to 240,721 for the year. Ford sold 240,721 SUVs, which was the highest level since 2001. Lincoln sales rose 10%.
"We sold 87,512 F-Series pick-up trucks in December, that was a 3% increase, but our best sales month going back 11 years," said Eric Merkle, Ford sales analyst. "This also gave us a total for the year for F-Series of 820,799 trucks and that made F-Series America’s best-selling pick-up truck for the 40th consecutive year."
Fiat-Chrysler's Ram Truck brand, which includes the ProMaster and ProMaster City vans, increased 11% 545,851. Retail and fleet pickup sales increased 9%, while van sales increased 45%. Overall Jeep sales increased 6% and the the Grand Cherokee led the way with 212,273 units.
Commercial sales in December reflected the trend of truck-based sales outperforming declining car sales with commercial fleet sales rising 2.7%. For the month, truck-based sales increased 3.5% to 54,650, while car sales declined 2.1% to 9,515.
Overall, the auto industry sold 17.55 million vehicles in 2016, which eclipsed 2015's record year by a slim margin of about 20,000 vehicles. Manufacturers said the industry remains healthy.
"Key economic indicators, especially consumer confidence, continue to reflect optimism about the U.S. economy and strong customer demand continues to drive a very healthy U.S. auto industry," said Mustafa Mohatarem, GM's chief economist. "We believe the U.S. auto industry remains well-positioned for sales to continue at or near record levels in 2017."