Pricier vehicles drove sales in December

Demand for higher-priced vehicles from retail buyers at the end of 2020 helped lift U.S. auto sales out of a springtime slump and buffered the impact of a sharp drop in fleet sales to rental-car companies.

Automakers likely sold about 15.9 million new vehicles on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate basis in December, down 4.7 percent from a year ago, according to an average of five market researcher forecasts.

Most automakers, including General Motors and Toyota, are expected to report their fourth-quarter U.S. sales tallies Tuesday. Tesla released its global deliveries on Jan. 2, and Ford will post its sales numbers Jan. 6.

The resilience of the U.S. market — which saw annualized sales plunge to more than 40-year lows in April as automakers temporarily closed factories and showrooms — has buoyed profits at automakers and kept dealer inventories tight.
Sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks are on track to make up 79 percent of total sales in 2020, up from 75 percent a year ago, estimated J.D. Power and LMC Automotive in a joint forecast.
The cost of buying a new car or truck continued to increase, with average transaction prices climbing an expected 9 percent in December to a record $38,077.
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