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US auto sales set to smash record in 2015

[CHICAGO] US auto sales were set to smash records in 2015 with December looking to be one of the best sales months in history as easy credit, hot new vehicles and strong consumer confidence lured buyers to showrooms.

General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota reported strong December sales on Tuesday and forecast the good times would keep rolling in 2016.

"The US economy continues to expand and the most important factors that drive demand for new vehicles are in place, so we expect to see a second consecutive year of record industry sales in 2016," said Mustafa Mohatarem, GM's chief economist.

"The single most important pieces are the ongoing gains in employment and the growth in personal income. When you add in lower energy prices, it's easy to see why consumer spending is strong." GM forecast that total industry sales for 2015 would hit 17.5 million vehicles once all carmakers report their results later Tuesday.

That would beat the previous record of 17.4 million set in 2000 and be six per cent higher than the 16.4 million vehicles sold in 2014, according to WardsAuto.

"It's truly remarkable that the auto industry is finishing off its best year ever just six years after the depths of the Great Recession," said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with the automotive website

While easy credit terms and low gas prices are making it easier for consumers to buy or lease new cars, Caldwell said it was the attractiveness of product offerings that are sealing the deal.

"If you're buying a new car today, you're getting a safer, more fuel-efficient and more technologically packed vehicle than ever before," she said in a statement.

"Automakers are doing a great job giving the people what they want in a new car." GM sales rose six per cent in December to 290,230 vehicles while total 2015 sales for the largest US automaker were up five per cent at 3.1 million vehicles.

Ford sales were up eight per cent in December at 239,242 and rose five per cent in 2015 to 2.6 million vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler sales jumped 13 per cent in December to 217,527, capping off 69 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains. Sales for 2015 were up seven per cent at 2.2 million vehicles.

Toyota sales increased 11 per cent in December to 238,350, the Japanese automaker said in a preview to its full results which did not include full-year figures.

"2015 was a standout year for the auto industry," Bill Fay, general manager for the Toyota division, said in a statement. "Best-ever light truck sales helped the Toyota division earn the retail sales crown for the fourth consecutive year."