The big winners for 2019 were the Koreans. Kia and Hyundai were both in the black in the final quarter of 2019 and increased their share of the US market from 7.2% to 8%

The big winners for 2019 were the Koreans. Kia and Hyundai were both in the black in the final quarter of 2019 and increased their share of the US market from 7.2% to 8%

With the release of Ford's Q4 2019 numbers on Monday (6 January), automakers were able to breathe a sigh of relief: total US light vehicle sales marked a fifth consecutive year above the 17m mark.

When the books were closed on 2 January, carmakers had delivered 17.1m cars and light trucks, if not to actual customers then at least to dealers.

Fiat Chrysler stuffed the pipeline again but at least offered generous incentives.

The tally left the industry about 1.2% behind last year which was actually better than many had expected.

The big winners for 2019 were the Koreans. Hyundai and Kia were both in the black in the final quarter of 2019 and increased their share of the US market from 7.2% to 8%.

The Europeans also finished ahead of their 2018 mark, up 5.7% for the quarter and 1% the year. There was some red ink in Q4 but everyone improved in the full year totals.

Volvo provided a big push in Q4 as sales surged 26.6% and BMW edged by Mercedes to regain the crown in the premium segment. Lexus' extended reign appears to be a thing of the past as it came in third again.

There was big news in the Detroit area as the Ram Pickup outperformed the Chevrolet Silverado in full year deliveries with a comfortable 10.1% margin. This is the first time for a Ram and the first time in a very long time for a Chrysler made pickup. I can't say it's the first time ever but I can speak fairly authoritatively about the past six decades.

The Dodge Challenger held onto the second spot in the pony car field, outselling the Chevy Camaro for a second year.

Naturally, Ford was delighted to point out that the F series pickup had just completed its 43rd year as the bestselling pickup and it won't be too long before it can claim four decades as the best selling vehicle in the United States.

Another milestone was reached in Q4: crossovers and SUVs claimed 50.2% of total deliveries in the last three months of 2019.

Toyota was the top brand in Q4 with Chevrolet as runner up. Jeep came in third. But Jeep finished the year just over a thousand units ahead of Toyota to claim the title for 2019.

Ten years ago, as the industry was digging itself out of a huge hole, utilities were recovering from the credit crash and record fuel prices in the US. At the end of 2010, the segment held 29.6% of the market; passenger cars and minivans dominated with 55.3% of sales. At the end of last year, the people movers collectively got a 30.5% piece of the pie while the utes helped themselves to a 48.4% slice.

The Detroit Three seemingly can't get out of the car business fast enough. Cars from FCA, Ford and GM accounted for just 19.3% of passenger car sales and a tiny 5.4% bite of total deliveries.

Even the traditional American police car is vanishing. With the end of Taurus production, the Dodge Charger Pursuit is the last American sedan offering a factory police package.

This shift in buying preferences make the upcoming marriage of Fiat Chrysler and PSA very interesting from this side of the pond.

Outside of the vanishing Fiat 500, the [Mazda MX5-based] 'Fiata' and an Alfa, all of FCA's US market vehicles are leftovers from the DaimlerChrysler days. The Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger will each hit their 15th year on the market in 2020; the Challenger is only a few years newer.

Between the Peugeot, Citroen, and Opel brands, there will be a fresh group of vehicles that will be new to the American market. While there are costs associated with homologating any vehicle for US safety and emissions standards, it would offer a relatively low cost method of at least keeping a foot in the door and as a hedge against a sharp increase in petrol prices which triggered a mass exodus from light trucks near the end of the last decade.

Of course, Americans with long memories will remember when Renault came to the rescue of AMC; Jeep is the sole survivor of that debacle. Given that both PSA and FCA are fairly healthy, there is no reason to assume there will be any significant problems but I have a feeling there will be some careful work to be done.

Even though the new decade actually doesn't begin until a year from now, there are already forecasters holding forth on the changes coming in the next 10 years.

Automakers around the world are investing billions of dollars, pounds, euros, yen, and yuan in electrification and autonomous vehicles. I have too much beard to be a convincing Cassandra but I am wondering if the road to the magic year of 2030 doesn't have some potholes and maybe even a land mine or two.

There are two big reality checks that can easily be foreseen.

The first is the fact that the electric power distribution grid in the United States isn't up to the task of recharging a significant number of battery powered vehicles. It's not just a question of sufficient charging points, it's a much more expensive question of upgrading the existing distribution system to handle the requirements of those charging stations.

The second is less amenable to a technical solution. Vehicles cost too much now. It's not so much a problem for the upscale brands, but it's a serious problem for the mainstream marques.

On Monday, Deloitte released a study that indicated that the majority of consumers were unwilling to pay more than US$500 (GBP380) for various enhancements including safety, alternative power sources, autonomy, and infotainment.

The average age of vehicles on the road in America is 11.8 years based on registrations in 2018. There is a significant shift of the population to urban areas but those urban areas vary widely in area and population density. New York City's population is concentrated in 784 square km but the Los Angeles metropolitan area covers 1,300 sq km and Houston's main population centre is 1,730 sq km.

Visions of ride sharing networks capable of allowing people to do away with one vehicle or perhaps do without one altogether run into problems of logistics potentially requiring social engineering on a massive scale. The simple fact is that Americans have more vehicles than most nations' populations and we live all over a land area about the size of Australia, even without Alaska and Hawaii.

Then the fact that most people don't even trust autonomous driving needs to be factored into those rosy predictions.

The technology is actually the easy part.

US light vehicle sales by manufacturer, December 2019

December 2019December 2018%chDaily Sales Rate chShare Dec19Share Dec 18YTD 19YTD 18%ch
FCA US LLC542519555221-2.3-3.512.712.822036632235204-1.4
Ford Motor Co.598728606569-1.3-2.61413.924061882485222-3.2
General Motors Co. (est.)734636784293-6.3-7.517.21828825512951514-2.3
Tesla Motors (est.)4660060000-22.3-23.31.11.422320016600034.5
U.S. Total19224832006083-4.2-5.44546.177156027837940-1.6
American Honda4019613946711.80.59.49.1160817016048280.2
Mazda North America70385652037.96.61.61.5278552300325-7.2
Mitsubishi Motors25475246763.21.90.60.61210461180742.5
Nissan North America301291349765-13.9-157813456811493877-9.9
Subaru of America*165633175861-5.8-73.947001176801352.9
Toyota Motors NA6040106024350.3-114.113.823833482426673-1.8
Japan Total15687551612611-2.7-436.737.164369146623912-2.8
Hyundai Motor America1887421762447.15.74.447100046779444.7
Kia Motors America15174013763110.38.83.53.26153385896734.4
Korea Total3404823138758.57.187.2132534212676174.6
BMW North America100738954405.64.22.42.23609183546981.8
Mercedes-Benz USA1019571010470.9-0.42.42.33584093554130.8
Jaguar Land Rover36716363171.1-0.20.90.81257871226262.6
Volkswagen Group**1673131569576.65.23.93.66490016345892.3
Volvo Cars USA308022433426.6250.70.61082349826310.1
Europe Total4375264140955.74.310.29.5160234915655891
Other (est.)5598528364.60.10.123454213809.7
Total Light Vehicles42748444351947-1.8-31001001710366117316438-1.2

Source: Manufacturers' data