Surging trucks emerge as bright spot in slowing United States auto market

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Toyota saw US sales drop 0.6 percent to 2.4 million, but the company highlighted strength in its popular Camry sedan, the RAV4 crossover and SUVs.

Mustafa Mohatarem, GM's chief economist, forecasts 2018 total vehicle sales (including medium and heavy trucks) to exceed 17 million units for the fourth year in a row.

Ford's sales fell 1.1 percent to 2.6 million compared to 2016, but it reported a surprise increase in December, fueled in part by the continued success of the F-Series pickups and other large vehicles. Fiat Chrysler reported a decline of 8 percent compared with 2016. Cadillac and Lexus both saw their sales drop 8 percent previous year; Lincoln sales plummeted 17 percent in December.

Honda's USA sales rose 0.2% for the year to 1.6 million.

Toyota Motor North America reported December sales dropped 8.3% from December 2016 on a volume basis.

Record sales were also posted by nearly all luxury vehicle brands, including Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.

The migration of consumers to larger, more expensive vehicles, especially luxury pickup trucks and crossovers, has come as easier credit and longer auto loans have enabled people to buy or lease vehicles they might have once considered unaffordable.

And the US auto industry continues to enjoy strong demand for larger vehicles, including SUVs, pickup trucks and "crossover" models.

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"This year, it'll be an even bigger year for trucks, because there are new ones coming", Michelle Krebs, an analyst with car-shopping website Autotrader, said on Bloomberg Television.

A few automakers say luxury sales have struggled.

Ford's overall sales increased by 0.9% in December, but the automaker, which is more and more dependent than ever on the success of its trucks and sport-utes, saw full-year sales drop 1.1% led by a 14.2% decline in vehicle sales.

GM also published its December sales figures Wednesday, which showed total sales were 2% up on the same month in 2016.

Despite the usual year-end push to get vehicles out the door, most automakers endured tough sledding in December.

And, the USA auto industry continues to enjoy strong demand for larger vehicles, including SUVs, pickup trucks and "crossover" models. Chevrolet was offering $11,000 off a 2017 Silverado pickup last month. The company's Acura luxury division fell 12.2% in December and 4.2% for the full year. Low unemployment and rising consumer confidence are expected to boost demand this year.

The winning streak "was the result of pent-up demand after the recession that's finally just running out", said Tim Fleming, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

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