Dodge Ram pickup trucks are on display on the lot at Landmark Dodge Chrysler Jeep RAM Monday in Morrow, Ga. Buoyed by a resurgent economy, holiday sales, cheap gasoline and a love affair with pickup trucks, Americans headed to car dealers in droves last month, pushing full-year sales to what's likely to be the highest level since 2006.

Danny McVay says 2014 was a key year for his Chattanooga Nissan dealership with sales surging 20 percent above 2013.

Higher consumer optimism, cheaper gas prices and low interest rates mixed together to help fuel the rally, said McVay, general manager of Nissan of Chattanooga East.

New car and truck sales in Hamilton County hit their highest mark in six years in 2014, according to vehicle registrations compiled by the county clerk's office. Total new vehicle registrations in the county were 12,542 in 2014, up 2.8 percent over 2013.

December sales, driven by the lowest gas pump prices in nearly six years, were 15.4 percent above a year ago, figures show.

Nationally, auto sales in 2014 were the strongest likely since 2006.

Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Nissan, Honda and General Motors all reported robust December and annual U.S. sales, with Nissan and Honda hitting record numbers for the year, according to figures compiled by Autodata Corp.

Analysts are predicting national sales of 16.5 million vehicles in 2014, up 6 percent from last year and a return to pre-recession levels.

Americans are expected to continue buying cars in big numbers this year. Sales are forecast to reach 17 million for the first time since 2005, close to the record of 17.3 million set in 2000.

Dwight Morgan, executive manager at Integrity Chevrolet in Chattanooga, said Integrity became the No. 1 volume Chevy dealer during 2014 in East Tennessee.

He cited new models such as the Silverado, named the North American Truck of the Year at the Detroit auto show, and its Colorado midsize truck and Impala sedan.

"Chevrolet has done a phenomenal job with its new product lines," Morgan said.

some text

Allan Long, general sales manager at Mercedes-Benz of Long of Chattanooga, said that more buyers are stepping up in vehicle class.

"They feel more comfortable," he said.

However, not all Chattanoogans are ready to buy.

Mark Coontz of East Ridge cited the economy, saying he's not making as much money today as he was a few years ago. While gas prices are relatively cheap now, that likely won't be the case in the long-term future, he said.

Steve Bender of Chattanooga said the economy isn't a factor for him, nor are gas prices or interest rates. Bender said he's happy with what he's driving these days, including a Lexus sport utility vehicle.

But across the U.S. in 2014, even the Volkswagen brand eked out a increase in December, up less than 1 percent, over a year ago. December sales totaled 34,058 vehicles on the strength of its Jetta sedan and Golf compact. Jetta sales totaled 14,572 units last month, a 6.2 percent increase over a year ago, the company reported. Golf sales more than doubled.

Chattanooga-made Passat sales were off 10.8 percent in December to 8,257. For the year, Passat posted an 11.9 percent drop.

For 2014, total VW brand sales closed at 366,970, down 10 percent from 2013. Among major automakers, VW had the biggest sales drop in the United States last year, although Ford also reported a slight drop in 2014 sales.

VW's limited offerings of sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks hurt the company's namesake brand, though sister luxury nameplates Audi and Porsche reported higher sales.

Among other auto companies with assembly plants in Tennessee, Nissan's sales grew 11 percent for the year to 1.39 million to set an annual record for the company. Its sales were led by the redesigned Rogue small SUV, up 22 percent.

At General Motors, a 19 percent sales gain in December helped drive annual sales up 5 percent to 2.94 million cars and trucks. In December, the Buick brand posted a 32 percent sales gain, while GMC was up 23 percent. Both brands advertised 20 percent discounts off sticker prices.

GM's full-size pickups, the Silverado and GMC Sierra, each posted gains of more than 30 percent for the month. The company sold over 81,000 big pickups.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.