Car sales enjoyed a record year in 2015, both in the United States and in New Jersey, a retail association says.

Car salesman (Barry Austin Photography, ThinkStock)

According to Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, 17.5 million new vehicles sold in the U.S. last year with 500,000 of them being sold here in New Jersey.

"2015 was the best year in a decade, and to appreciate just how good it was, you have to look at how bad things got during the Great Recession," Appleton said.

He says sales in 2005 increased in New Jersey by more than half a million new cars and light trucks. In 2009, they dipped below 350,000, representing a decrease of more than 30 percent.

We topped a half a million new cars and light trucks sold in New Jersey last year.

"Since 2009, fortunately, this part of the country, New Jersey, New York, Delaware Valley region started coming back a little sooner than the rest of the country. It's been slow, but to the point where I can say 2015 marks the return of the car business," Appleton said.

He said most of the reasons why things were good last year remain the reasons why we expect things may slightly improve in 2016. Those reasons, Appleton said, include "interest rates are still low enough, and the existence of factory financing in the car business will insulate car buyers from any increases in the fed rate. And gas prices are low."

According to Appleton, the low gas prices could give some consumers the push they need to move forward with a car purchcase they may have been putting off.

"One is we all have a little bit more cash in our pocket, and people who have been putting off purchases during the Great Recession, some of those people, they feel better about their job, they feel their houses are worth more, their 401K's are worth more, and I think they feel more confident going into the market. And when they do, they have a little bit more disposable income," he said.

Another reason the low gas prices are helping the automotive industry involves crossovers vehicles.

"These are sport utilities built on car frames. This is a segment of the market that didn't really exist a decade ago. It now accounts for 22 percent of total sales volume," Appleton said.

He says the crossover, luxury SUV and traditional SUV market right now in New Jersey accounted for 44 percent of total sales volume in 2015. Also in the mix is a new array of electronic and safety features and options.

"Infotainment in integration of your personal electronic devices into the vehicle is something that I think all automakers continue to struggle with, because the personal electronics and entertainment business is moving so fast, and the car business has such a long lag time, that sometimes it is hard to integrate the latest and greatest into cars," Appleton said.

He said there are also a lot more choices in terms of power when it comes to hybrid vehicles. There is even a growing number of solely electric vehicle choices.

"I think that that is something that is attractive to consumers as well," he said. "All of these cars are beautiful, well-built and are super-competitively-price. So sometimes that is going to be the deciding factor. Which vehicle integrates best with my music, my email, my text, my nav in my personal device."

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.

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