Automakers on Tuesday reported record U.S. sales for 2015 and for December, and industry observers suggested that 2016 could be even better.

New-vehicle sales in South Jersey, Delaware, and Southeastern Pennsylvania mirrored the national trend, with about 393,000 vehicles sold last year, compared with 375,000 in 2014, said Kevin Mazzucola, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Auto Dealers Association.

In Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties, dealers sold 194,500 new vehicles in 2015, compared with 186,635 the year before, said Mazzucola, whose group runs the Philadelphia Auto Show, which will begin Jan. 30.

"Car sales have been increasing for an unprecedented six years," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at AutoTrader.com. But 2015 was a record, "the most cars ever sold in a year in the U.S. auto industry."

The reasons are many: an improving economy; lower unemployment, which gave people confidence to take on a long-term loan; easy credit; better fuel economy; low gas prices; and compelling new technology.

"The No. 1 thing that consumers want are back-up cameras, and they want automatic braking," Krebs said, where "if you are following a car, and your car senses you are too close, it automatically brakes for you."

Spurred by the popularity of pickup trucks and small sport utility vehicles, 17.5 million new cars and trucks left dealer showrooms last year, compared with 10.4 million in 2009, a low point following the recession's start in late 2007.

"In 2010, 2011, and 2012, there was a lot of pent-up demand," Mazzucola said. "What we are seeing now has transitioned to desire. People want something new, especially with the advances of electronics, safety features, performance, and fuel economy."

Subaru of America, based in Cherry Hill, said it sold 582,675 vehicles in 2015, an increase of 13.4 percent, and the seventh consecutive year of sales records. Subaru broke ground recently on a new headquarters in Camden.

Almost all auto manufacturers had all-time-high U.S. sales last year. The exception was Volkswagen, which said U.S. sales fell 9 percent in December in the aftermath of its diesel-car cheating scandal. Still, the company said, sales were better than in November, after it stopped selling diesels equipped with software that subverted U.S. emissions standards. Total 2015 U.S. sales fell 5 percent, VW said.

Sales were up for Hyundai and Kia, which import 150,000 cars annually into Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia. But the South Korean automakers did not do as well as some others because they sell mostly cars and consumers continued in 2015 to shift away from them, including sedans, to SUVs and trucks.

"Any company that is dominant in cars and not sport utilities and trucks is going to falter a little," Krebs said.

Honda, Toyota, General Motors, and Ford all reported higher profits. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Nissan Motor Co. reported double-digit U.S. sales gains in December.

Fiat Chrysler, maker of the popular Jeep brand, said sales were up 13 percent in December.

"In 10 years, this is the most cars I've ever sold on this property," said David Kelleher, owner of David Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Glen Mills.

The dealership sold 1,693 new cars in 2015, and 1,537 in 2014.

"It's been consistent growth from 2008 to 2009, which was just horrific," Kelleher recalled.

Like GM, Chrysler weathered bankruptcy, then merged with Italian automaker Fiat.

Fast-forward to now. "We have a perfect storm - a lot of credit, a vastly improved model line not only for Chrysler but also across the industry, and low gas prices," Kelleher said.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is "the most popular SUV in the country right now," and "every month is good. It's busy," he said. "At the low point during the recession, we had 41 employees. We just finished this month with 92 employees. People are getting paid. Everybody is happy."

But, Kelleher said, he will never forget 2008. "I didn't know how I was going to make payroll."

"One reason it's good to be an automotive dealer now is because during those tough times we lost about 22 percent of our dealers nationally, not just Chrysler but across the board," Kelleher said. "Some have returned to the market. But if you do the math, we get to sell more cars in each one of our showrooms, which gives us more revenue to hire more people and build more buildings. I just finished a $3 million renovation in March.

"Right now, I'm smiling from ear to ear. It's really good to be a dealer."

lloyd@phillynews.com

215-854-2831@LoydLinda