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2016 U.S. Auto Sales Set a New Record High

U.S. consumers bought a record number of new cars and trucks in 2016. A repeat performance in 2017 could be a tall order.

Low gas prices, rising employment and low interest rates kept buyers coming to car dealerships last year. There was also the allure of new technology - such as backup cameras, automatic emergency braking and Apple CarPlay - and new vehicles such as the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, the Honda Civic and the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt.

U.S. vehicle sales totaled 17.55 million, beating 2015's record of 17.47 million, according to Autodata Corp. It was the seventh consecutive year of year-over-year sales gains, an unprecedented string, said Tom Libby, an analyst with the consulting firm IHS Markit.

That string could be in jeopardy, however. The National Automobile Dealers Assn. expects U.S. sales to drop to 17.1 million vehicles in 2017 as interest rates and vehicle prices rise. Large numbers of cars coming off leases will hit the used-car market next year, putting pressure on new-car sales. And more buyers are opting for longer loans, so they won't be returning to dealerships anytime soon.

Political issues could also affect sales. President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to impose a 35-percent tariff on vehicles made in Mexico and exported to the U.S., which would affect every major automaker. But he also has promised more spending on infrastructure, which could boost sales of pickup trucks.

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