California’s new car sales rose 11% in 2015, nearly setting a sales record.
Total sales of 2.05 million cars and light trucks represent the best retail figures since 2005, when the state saw 2.15 million vehicles sold.
Honda's Civic and Accord were the top-selling subcompact and standard midsize vehicles, respectively, and were the No. 1 and No. 2 vehicles sold overall, according to research by the California New Car Dealers Assn.
The organization said 79,656 new Civics and 73,505 new Accords were sold in 2015.
The Toyota Prius was third in the rankings with 72,040 new vehicles sold, with its Camry and Corolla just behind with 63,290 and 62,553 units, respectively.
John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda, said beating Toyota was not as surprising as beating it with the Civic, not the Accord, which was the top model sold in California in 2014.
Toyota’s Prius had been California’s No. 1 seller in 2012 and 2013.
“We’ve always shared first and second with Toyota, trading it off with Prius or Camry,” Mendel said. “But the real story here is the Civic, which vaulted past everything.”
Civic sales in California were up 18% over 2014, Mendel said.
Honda and Toyota also held the top positions in the compact SUV and van segments, as well as in used-vehicle sales, where Toyota’s Camry scored the top spot and Honda’s Civic was in second place. Between them, the two Japanese automakers claimed the top six positions in 2015 sales of previously owned vehicles in the state.
Despite missing the top two podium positions by model, Toyota ruled the state's overall market share, largely because of its relative strength in compact pickups, midsize SUVs and large midsize sedans. Toyota captured 21% of all California new-vehicle sales. Honda trailed with 13%.
Toyota's overall sales increased 5.2% over 2014. Honda's were about double that, at 10.5%.
As the leader, Toyota had less room to grow market share, said TrueCar industry analyst Patrick Min. But Honda saw an “aggressive product cadence” in 2015, with new or refreshed versions of its HR-V, Pilot, Civic and Accord models, he added.
“The product line is all fresh or all new,” Min said. “It's a brand revival.”
The sales picture could change soon, though, as Toyota’s newly remodeled 2016 Prius hits the market. The new generation of the world’s bestselling hybrid has gotten strong critical reception and could again be a top seller.
Jeep and Subaru saw the greatest growth by brand. Jeep sales rose 29.8%; Subaru's were up 21.9%.
Min credited the two companies with taking a creative approach to California’s product needs.
The new Jeeps, he said, “are well executed and really fit in with the younger, urban lifestyle.” And Subaru “is the darling brand. They have established themselves as a very genuine brand, and an outdoor brand.”
Mazda, Kia, Chevy, Hyundai, Ford, Lexus, Nissan and Mercedes-Benz also saw sales up more than 10%.
Following a national trend, the growth in sales of light trucks outpaced growth in passengers cars sales, and gained market share. Statewide, truck sales were up 19.4%, while cars rose 5.8%. Trucks gained 2.9% in market share, taking away that percentage from cars.
The Ford F-series, the nation’s top-selling vehicle for more than three decades, was the state's favorite full-size pickup truck, with 44,369 vehicles sold. Chevy’s Silverado was next, with 39,157 units. Ram trailed with 28,050. Among compact pickups, Toyota’s Tacoma dwarfed the competition, with 31,082 trucks sold, compared with No. 2 seller Nissan Frontier’s 7,831.
Nationally, the association said, overall sales were up by a less robust rate of 5% over 2014.
The organization predicted that 2016 will be an equally strong year.
“The combination of very low fuel prices, high demand for light trucks, and strong consumer affordability should help the market increase this year,” the association said.