What were America's top-selling vehicles last year?
All of these vehicles have something in common: The scale of their sales volumes makes them big profit generators for their makers. And something else: All five have been high on the list for years.
Let's take a look.
5th Place: Honda Accord
Honda's (NYSE:HMC) stalwart midsize sedan has been popular with Americans since its debut in the late 1970s. It's reliable, affordable, comfortable, and even reasonably fun to drive.
But 2015 was something of an off year for Honda's popular sedan. Cheap gas and low interest rates have encouraged more and more car-shoppers to opt for car-based "crossover" SUVs instead of traditional sedans. Honda's popular CR-V crossover helped the automaker hang on to a lot of those buyers, but Accord sales suffered: U.S. sales of the midsize Honda were down 8.4% last year.
Honda gave the Accord an overhaul for 2016; it's said to be quieter and smoother-riding, which should increase its appeal on test drives. Whether it will be enough to draw more buyers away from crossovers remains to be seen. But even if not, it's a safe bet that the Accord will continue to be among America's top sellers in years to come.
4th Place: Toyota Camry
The Accord's old arch-rival, Toyota's (NYSE:TM) ubiquitous Camry, beat it for fourth place in the U.S. sales rankings in 2015. The Camry got an extensive revamp for 2015, with new sheet metal and a revised interior. The combination seems to have helped: A lot of sedans posted sales declines last year, but the Camry actually eked out a tiny (0.2%) year-over-year sales increase.
Toyota also saw plenty of buyers choose crossovers instead: Its RAV4 and Highlander crossovers both posted nice sales gains in the U.S. last year. But the Camry held its ground as America's best-selling sedan, a spot that Toyota won't want to see it relinquish in 2016.
3rd Place: Ram pickups
Now we're into the heavy iron. Pickup trucks are huge profit centers for all three of the Detroit automakers, and Fiat Chrysler (NYSE:FCAU) is no exception. While Toyota has made a valiant effort with its full-size Tundra pickup, American truck buyers prefer American brands, plain and simple.
FCA's Ram pickups have a strong following, thanks to their handsome good looks and a suspension design that gives them a more comfortable ride than some rivals. An 8-speed automatic transmission helps even the thirsty Hemi V8s to deliver decent fuel economy. And the Ram 1500 is the only light-duty full-size pickup to offer a diesel option, which has drawn quite a few buyers despite its high cost.
2nd Place: Chevrolet Silverado
I feel that this one should come with an asterisk for 2015. Not because the Silverado did badly -- it didn't -- but because General Motors (NYSE:GM) loses ground in the pecking order because of its decision to split its big pickup sales between two different brands. The Silverado and the GMC Sierra are essentially the same truck under the skin, though the Sierra is available with more upscale trim and options.
GM was able to gain market share in the full-size pickup segment in 2015 thanks to short supplies of a certain contender (we'll get to it in a moment) in the first several months of the year. The gains weren't enough to put the Silverado in first place. But if you add in the sales of the 12th-place Sierra, you'll see that GM sold more full-size pickups than anyone else last year.
But because those sales were split between two different brands, it wasn't good enough to dislodge the number one contender.
1st Place: Ford F-Series
Ford's (NYSE:F) F-Series pickup line has been America's best-seller for 34 years in a row. That's a big deal for the Blue Oval -- and not just because of bragging rights.
Ford's super-popular pickups have a huge following, and keeping that following happy is a very big priority in Dearborn. That's because the F-Series, which includes the F-150 and its Super Duty siblings, generate a lot of profit for Ford.
The F-150 was all-new for 2015, with a radical change: Aluminum body panels. The switch to aluminum was intended to help save fuel and improve the F-150's towing and hauling capacities, all good things. But the change required weeks of downtime to reconfigure the two factories that make the F-150, and that meant that Ford dealers had short supplies of the new trucks until late summer.
That put Ford at a disadvantage, one that GM was happy to jump on. But despite some early doubts, it turned out that the new F-150 was a big hit with truck fans, and Ford was able to build and sell more than enough to hang onto its sales crown.