U.S. Car Sales Set Record in 2015

First Up 01/06/16

January 6, 2016 

U.S. Car Sales Set Record in 2015 
U.S. car sales hit an annual record, clearing a previous peak reached in 2000 as lower gas prices and interest rates spurred consumers to snap up vehicles from dealerships, reports The Wall Street Journal. Automakers sold 17.5 million light-duty cars and trucks in the U.S. in 2015, a 6 percent increase from a year earlier and topping the 17.4 million sold in 2000. Nearly every car company posted strong December results, taking advantage of two additional selling days and warm weather to cap off the year. Japanese auto makers contributed to the month’s robust results, rolling out double-digit percentage increases over the year-ago period. Toyota Motor Corp. said two additional selling days helped lift its new-car sales in the U.S. 11 percent to 238,350 vehicles. The Japanese auto maker also recorded its best-ever light-truck sales. Honda Motor Co. reported U.S. sales rose 9.9 percent to 150,893 in December for an all-time annual sales record. Nissan Motor Co. pushed out a December record with a 19 percent leap to 139,300 vehicles sold. AIADA’s December edition of Market Watch will be released today, highlighting the role international brands played in the U.S. market. To read more about year-end auto sales, click here

Automakers, Not Silicon Valley, Lead in Driverless Car Patents  
Automakers, not technology companies, are in the driver's seat in developing self-driving, "autonomous" cars, and Toyota Motor Corp. is best positioned to lead the way, according to a new report on patents for the fast-evolving technology. According to Automotive News, the report, by the Intellectual Property and Science division of Thomson Reuters, is based on a detailed analysis of patent filings by automakers and tech companies for autonomous-car technology. The findings illuminate the challenges for both established automakers and Silicon Valley companies as they compete to profit from moving people around in a world that is increasingly congested and concerned about carbon emissions. The global auto industry is in the midst of three simultaneous, and interconnected, technology revolutions. The first is the quest for cleaner alternatives to internal-combustion engines. The second involves connectivity and linking cars to information or data services. Lastly, the autonomy revolution is the effort to develop self-driving cars that could enable services in which electric cars connected to the Web can be summoned to provide rides on demand. Toyota is, far and away, the global leader in the number of self-driving car patents, the report found. For more on which automakers are leading in driverless car patents, click here

Kia Not Ready for Luxury Brand 
While its sister brand Hyundai is marching ahead with a separate luxury brand, dubbed Genesis, Kia is not ready to go there yet, reports WardsAuto. And with the way luxury manufacturers are invading the turf of mass-market makes, such a thing may not be necessary, says a Kia U.S. official. “The dynamic, the environment’s changed. I don’t know if you have to go out and establish something new,” Michael Sprague, chief operating officer-Kia Motors America, tells WardsAuto in a recent interview. He cites as a case in point the Mercedes-Benz CLA sedan, originally priced at $29,900, but for ’16 starting at $32,050. It may not be that officials at Kia’s corporate parent in South Korea feel the same way, but nevertheless Sprague says KMA will study a luxury brand. As far as he’s concerned, Kia has just dipped its toe in the luxury waters with the 2014 U.S.-market debut of the K900. The ’16 version of the large luxury sedan, derived from the same platform as Hyundai’s current-generation Equus sedan, ranges from $49,000 for a base V-6 model to $61,900 for a V-8-powered grade with luxury appointments such as wood-trimmed seat backs and a suede headliner. For more on Kia’s luxury strategy, click here

Toyota is Connecting a Lot of Cars to a 'Big Data Center' This Year 
According to The Verge, millions of Toyotas around the world, connected to LTE, quietly uploading and downloading from a huge, nondescript building far, far away: that appears to be the end goal of a new initiative announced by Toyota this week, which will see the installation of "Data Communication Modules" (DCMs) in a bunch of new models. Exactly what features that cellular connection buys you will probably vary from country to country — but at the very least, Toyota notes that every single DCM-equipped car will have standard emergency notification in a crash, triggered automatically by airbag deployment. All of the cars will connect to a "Toyota Big Data Center," a somewhat ominously named facility that will "analyze and process data collected by DCM, and use it to deploy services under high-level information security and privacy controls." A number of automakers have added standard cellular connections in recent years that enable features like emergency notification, remote vehicle monitoring, and so on. But for Toyota, the largest automaker in the world, this marks a substantial advance for the democratization of the connected car — assuming the DCM doesn't end up a high-cost option. Read more about Toyota’s Data Communication Modules here

Shaking Down Auto Lenders and Buyers the Washington Way 
Whether they meet with me at the capital in Washington, D.C., or a Granite State roundtable, members of the New Hampshire Auto Dealers Association usually have one thing on their minds, according to an Investor’s Business Daily opinion piece by Rep. Frank Guinta: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Currently, auto dealers can negotiate lower rates and fees with lending companies, in order to offer customers the best possible deals. A competitive market benefits most buyers. However, the CFPB claims that dealers' flexibility to offer low financing rates disproportionately harms minorities. Even so, the agency issued a notice of liability to auto dealers. The Wall Street Journal estimates that the CFPB's efforts to restrict competition will raise the price of the average car loan by $586. That may not seem like much to a federal agency with a half-billion dollar budget, but to a middle-class family of four, the figure amounts to about a month's worth of groceries. Federal interference could drive prices even higher, preventing millions of Americans from purchasing affordable, reliable transportation. Small businesses, including minority and women- owned, would likely lose customers, and in turn, employees. Read more about the impact that CFPB action could have on dealers and consumers here

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