They may be in the business of making cars, but many in the auto industry likely felt they were in another type of transportation last year: a rollercoaster.
From tariffs to tiffs with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2018 was a particularly turbulent one for carmakers. But those dips and twists in the car trends have been met with at least one calming turn: Vehicle sales were up in 2018.
Recent estimates put total vehicle sales last year at 17.3 million—a modest uptick from 2017’s year-end total of 17.2 million. It may represent an increase of less than 1%, but the number has helped automakers secure a record, marking the 4th year in a row that annual sales have topped 17 million. (That streak peaked in 2016, when year-end sales reached 17.6 million.)
Analysts have attributed all manner of factors for the industry’s continued success in 2018, including a particularly potent combination of low unemployment, tax cuts, and cheap gas.
But even in the wake of the good news, some remained concerned for the future.
According to some reports, a large part of last year’s acquisitions were made by those buying in bulk—including rental and government agencies as well as corporate entities looking to assemble fleets of cars they intend to turn autonomous.
And Tesla, despite its own rollercoaster of a year, may have been single-handedly responsible for buoying the 2018 total, after the company reportedly tripled its sales last year. The New York Times reports that without that strong showing, the industry would have instead posted a smaller total than 2017.
Individual vehicle sales, the paper also noted, were flat—a much more foreboding statistic for manufacturers.
Indeed, all “Big Three” American automakers had a rough go of it in 2018, with General Motors seeming to be hit particularly hard. According to the Times, the GM not only reached the lowest market share level in the entirety of its century-long run, but announced plans to “idle” 5 of its North American plants—putting nearly 14,000 jobs at risk.
But if 2019 is anything like its predecessor, it will be filled with unpredictable ups and downs—and guessing how the year will look for auto sales may prove a fool’s errand.