DETROIT -- Demand may be slowing, but U.S. consumers still bought a whole lot of cars and trucks in 2016.
U.S. sales of new vehicles -- which set a record of 17.47 million in 2015 -- could hit a new high in 2016. Consulting firm LMC Automotive and car-buying site Edmunds.com each predict sales will squeak past the previous record and reach 17.5 million in 2016.
But after six straight years of sales gains -- a string not seen since the 1920s -- U.S. sales appear to have reached a plateau. The National Automobile Dealers Association expects U.S. sales to drop to 17.1 million vehicles in 2017 as interest rates and vehicle prices rise. Off-lease used cars will be coming to market in big numbers next year, putting pressure on new car sales. And more buyers are opting for longer loans. That means they won't be returning to dealerships anytime soon.
Political issues could also impact sales. President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to impose a 35-percent tariff on vehicles made in Mexico and exported to the U.S., which would impact every major automaker. But he also has promised more spending on infrastructure, which could boost pickup truck sales.
"It is the year of unknowns," said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with the car buying site Autotrader.com.
For now, though, the market is strong. Nissan Motor Co.'s U.S. sales rose 5 percent in 2016 to more than 1.5 million, a company record. Subaru brand also set an annual record, with sales up 6 percent to 615,132. Honda Motor Co.'s sales jumped 3 percent to more than 1.6 million. Ford Motor Co.'s sales were up less than 1 percent to more than 2.6 million. Fiat Chrysler's sales were flat at 2.2 million.
General Motors Co. said its year-over-year sales were down 1.3 percent to just over 3 million cars and trucks. That was partly because the company cut back on low-profit sales to rental-car firms. Toyota Motor Corp.'s full-year sales fell 2 percent to 2.4 million. Volkswagen brands sales dropped 8 percent to 322,948, hurt by the company's diesel mileage cheating scandal.
Other automakers report sales later Wednesday.
Low gas prices, rising employment and low interest rates kept buyers coming to car dealerships last year. There was also the lure of new technology -- such as backup cameras, automatic emergency braking and Apple CarPlay -- and new vehicles like the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, the Honda Civic and the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt.
Here are some details of 2016 sales:
Ã¢ Â¢ Winners and losers: Ford's F-Series pickup remained the best-selling vehicle in America in 2016, with 820,799 trucks sold. That's the equivalent of 93 trucks sold every hour. The Toyota Camry was the best-selling car, despite a 9.5-percent dip in sales to 388,618.
Ã¢ Â¢ SUV takeover: Toyota's U.S. sales chief, Bill Fay, said consumers' shift from cars to SUVs is one of the biggest the industry has ever seen. Three years ago, trucks and SUVs represented 50 percent of the U.S. market. They closed 2016 at 63 percent of the market, and analysts don't see that changing anytime soon. Boomers and Millennials both like the space they offer and the higher ride height, and improvements in fuel economy make them competitive with cars. The Honda CR-V was one of the best-selling small SUVs in the U.S. last year, with sales up 3 percent to 357,335.
Ã¢ Â¢ Piling on the deals: Incentive spending reached a record of $4,000 per vehicle in November before falling a bit in December. Incentives are great for buyers, who were walking away with thousands of dollars in bonus cash or financing deals. Autotrader said Ford was offering as much as $13,000 off its C-Max hybrid in certain markets in December. But the deals can hurt the industry in the long term, since they damage vehicles' resale values and automakers' profits.
Even with incentives, the average sale price of a vehicle rose to $32,000, a record for December, LMC said.