Americans headed for local car dealers en masse last month, taking advantage of year-end closeouts, sweet leases and inexpensive financing to boost the industry log its strongest sales year since 2007.
Most major automakers, who will report sales on Friday, were expected to report gains for the year. But there were signs in December that 2014 could bring more price competition and better deals for consumers as U.S. auto sales growth starts to slow.
Most analysts are predicting that Americans bought around 1.4 million new cars and trucks last month, the fourth-best month of the year. That means the industry will finish 2014 with sales of about 15.6 million cars and trucks, roughly 8 % better than the 14.5 million vehicles sold in 2012.
Auto sales have risen by more than a million vehicles per year since 2009, when just 10.4 million cars and trucks sold. But some analysts expect growth to slow to as little as 400,000 this year, with total sales around 16 million. That means automakers likely will offer deals to protect or increase market share.
In December automakers raised rebates and other incentives as they pushed to make year-end sales goals. Average incentives were up 4 % compared with a year ago to $2,676 as Ford, Hyundai/Kia and Honda led the way with sweet deals, according to the TrueCar.com auto-pricing site.