The auto industry sprinted past the finish line in December, closing out one of the most robust years in nearly a decade for car and truck sales in the United States.
Motivated by a rebounding economy, lower unemployment and staggeringly low gas prices, Americans flooded dealers' showrooms in 2014, despite a record number of safety recalls.
Fiat Chrysler was the largest beneficiary of renewed consumer demand, as it soared to a 20 percent increase in December from a year earlier, topping off a 16 percent increase for 2014 overall. The company sold more than 2 million vehicles in 2014, and the Jeep brand set a record for its best sales year ever.
General Motors posted a strong showing, too. Its sales were up 19 percent in December, and for the year sales finished up 5 percent, on a volume of about 2.9 million vehicles.
The company's Chevrolet brand was up 4.4 percent for the year. Buick was up 11.4 percent, powered by the Enclave SUV (up 53 percent), and GMC rose 11.3 percent. Only Cadillac lagged; its sales dropped 6.5 percent in 2014. Among Cadillac's offerings, only the Escalade ended in positive territory.
GM reported seven of its vehicles set records in 2014 for annual sales: the Chevrolet Cruze, Equinox, Sonic and Spark, the GMC Terrain and the Buick Enclave and Encore.
Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for AutoTrader.com, said the company closed the year "on a very high note, particularly in light of a year of really bad recall news."
The exception among the Big Three was Ford Motor, which was flat in December and ended down for 2014. The company's Ford brand posted a yearly loss of 1.1 percent on volume of about 2.39 million vehicles, down nearly 26,000 from the year before. Its car sales fell 4 percent for the year; only two models, the Mustang and Fusion, posted sales gains.
Ford's trucks also took a hit, down 0.7 percent. The company sold about 10,000 fewer F-Series pickups in 2014 than in the previous year because of its recent introduction of a mostly aluminum-body F-150, which caused a lengthy plant shutdown to retool Ford's Dearborn factory.
Ford is making a big bet on its new aluminum truck, which is only now starting to reach buyers. Krebs said Ford could chalk up 2014 as a "transition year," but it would now have to prove its gamble will pay off.
"The real test comes this year when the new F-150 is on the market in full force," she said.