U.S. auto sales touched a new high in 2015 as easy credit, hot new vehicles and strong consumer confidence pushed sales slightly above the record set in 2000, industry data showed Tuesday.
Some 17.47 million vehicles were sold in the United States last year, nearly 70,000 more than the record set 15 years earlier, according to Autodata.
Sales were up six percent from the 16.52 million vehicles registered in 2014.
The boom comes after sales collapsed to lows not seen in decades in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis which knocked General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy.
That downturn accelerated much-needed restructuring at the Detroit Three carmakers, which began racking in record profits when the economy improved and sales started climbing again.
The good times are expected to keep on rolling in 2016.
"The U.S. 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."
Total industry sales rose nine percent in December, to 1.64 million vehicles, according to Autodata.
The results come days before carmakers are set to reveal a host of new products at the Detroit auto show, where the mood is expected to be exuberant.
"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 Edmunds.com.
While easy credit terms and low gas prices are making it easier for consumers to buy or lease new cars, Caldwell said the attractiveness of product offerings is 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."
Nearly every major carmaker shared in the gains.
But embattled German automaker Volkswagen bucked the trend as sales were hit by a massive pollution-cheating scandal.
VW sales fell nine percent to 30,956 in December and were down five percent in 2015 at 349,400 vehicles. The results were nonetheless better than the 25 percent drop registered in November after VW stopped selling diesel-engine vehicles shown to have been equipped for years with software that intentionally subverted clean-air regulations.
"As we look towards 2016, we are committed to rebuilding trust in the brand and would like to thank our customers and dealers for their continued patience and loyalty," said Mark McNabb, chief operating officer for Volkswagen of America.
GM sales rose six percent in December to 290,230 vehicles while total 2015 sales for the largest US automaker were up five percent at 3.1 million vehicles.
Ford sales were up eight percent in December at 239,242 and rose five percent in 2015 to 2.6 million vehicles.
Fiat Chrysler sales jumped 13 percent in December to 217,527 while 2015 sales were up seven percent at 2.2 million vehicles.
Toyota sales increased 11 percent in December to 238,350 and were up five percent in 2015 at 2.5 million. Both of the Japanese automaker's brands -- Toyota and Lexus -- posted record-breaking December sales while its Corolla, RAV4 and Highlander vehicles smashed records for the year.
"2015 was a standout year for the auto industry," Bill Fay, general manager for the Toyota division, said in a statement.
Honda sales rose 10 percent in December to 150,893 and were up three percent for the year at 1.5 million.
Nissan posted an eight percent gain in December at 139,300 while its 2015 sales rose seven percent to 1.4 million.