The U.S. auto industry sold a little over 3.4 million cars in 2020. That year, total car and light truck sales were between 14 and 15 million in the United States. U.S. vehicle sales peaked in 2016 at roughly 17.5 million units.
Light vehicle sales fall amid pandemic
The U.S. auto industry had a tough year in 2020, amid contracting auto sales in the North American region due to the coronavirus pandemic. As the economy began to reopen, U.S. monthly sales returned to near pre-pandemic levels in May. December was the best month for U.S. vehicle sales in 2020.
Focus on fuel economy
The U.S. auto industry had one of its worst years in 1982 when customers were beginning to feel the effects of the 1973 oil crisis and the energy crisis of 1979. Since light trucks would often be considered less fuel-efficient, cars accounted for about 77 percent of light vehicle sales back then. Thanks to improved fuel economy for light trucks and cheaper gas prices, this picture had completely changed in 2020. That year, prices for Brent oil dropped to just over 40 U.S. dollars per barrel. The decline occurred in tandem with lower gasoline prices, which came to about 2.17 U.S. dollars per gallon in 2020 - and cars only accounted for less than one-fourth of light vehicle sales that year.
The figures for 1951 to 1975 were taken from the wardsauto.com website (please note that this content has been put behind a registration wall). Monthly values have been added up. The term car refers to light vehicles other than light trucks.