For the third straight year, sales for new cars and trucks in California exceeded 2 million and the forecast for 2018 anticipates the number to top 2 million again -- but just barely, as the rate of growth is slowing.
New vehicle registrations reached 2.047 million units in 2017, down from 2.088 million in 2015, which was one of the strongest years ever recorded by the California New Car Dealers Association (CNCDA), which releases sales figures each quarter.
About 2.01 million cars and trucks are expected to be sold this year.
"That's the California new vehicle market -- it's 2 million a year, pretty stable," said Brian Maas, the CNCDA president. "That seems to be the place where the market is sitting when it's healthy."
The new car market has plateaued after seven straight years of significant increases. Registrations in the final three months of 2017 were down 1.2 percent over the fourth quarter of 2016, marking the third straight quarter of slight declines.
While the numbers dipped last year, they were still nearly twice as large compared to the lowest point of the Great Recession in 2009 when 1.04 million registrations were recorded in the Golden State.
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The 2017 sales figures underscored a trend -- consumers are buying fewer cars and more pickup trucks and SUVs.
Light truck sales were up 10.3 percent across the state while car sales dipped 7.4 percent. Dealers and auto analysts say the combination of relatively low gasoline prices in the past three years, better fuel efficiency for trucks and SUVs plus the desire for roomier vehicles account for the shift.
"Unemployment is low and you look at survey research that indicates people feel fairly good relatively speaking about their economic situation and when they do, they tend to buy more light trucks or bigger vehicles," Maas said.
The top four-selling vehicles in the state were cars but five of the remaining six in the top 10 were light trucks and SUVs.