The top 5 car industry stories of 2015 touch everyone

No matter what car you drive, or whether you drive at all, the top automotive stories of 2015 touched just about every American in one way or another.

Here's our top five:

1. Volkswagen's scandal. For those who follow public policy, Volkswagen's brazen flaunting of emissions laws and the system that discovered the deceit have to be at the top of the list. In a rare admission for a corporation, Volkswagen declared that it had put a "defeat device" on 482,000 diesel cars in the U.S. to allow them to beat emissions tests. The cars emit more pollutants than the rules allow.

That was only the tip of the tailpipe. There are 11 million VW cars worldwide that also have the same software embedded, VW says. And the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board, which spearheaded the findings, also turned their attention to VW vehicles with the larger 3-liter engine. Their emissions were also found to be too high.

Early next year, look for Volkswagen to announce how it plans to fix the cars. Also expect big fines and payouts in the many lawsuits that have been filed.

2. A banner year. The auto industry is expected to have sold a record number of new vehicles in 2015. Americans are trading in their old wheels for new sets as never before.

With a 12.8% projected sales boost in December compare to last year, the auto industry is on track to sell 17.1 million vehicles, estimates TrueCar, an online auto shopping service. That would be up 6.1% over 2014.

It's been a long climb for the industry from the depths of the recession. In 2009, the industry bottomed out at 10.4 million new vehicles sold, Autodata says.

3. Feds crack down on Fiat Chrysler. Earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration levied a $70-million fine against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for under-reporting crash, death and injury data. That was only the latest in a year of moves to try to improve safety reporting at the Detroit automaker.

This new fine reflects an amended agreement reached in July. At the time, the company agreed to stricter NHTSA oversight.

Three civil penalties now total $175 million, with $140 million due in cash and another $35 million in deferred penalties that will come due if the company fails to meet its obligations under the consent order. All in all, a painful year for this huge automaker.

4. More Takata air bag recalls. In May, NHTSA ordered Japan's Takata, a major auto-industry parts supplier, to replace 33.8 million air bags in vehicles from almost a dozen auto brands.

Takata agreed to the recall, which continues.

5. Progress on self-driving cars.  This year, just about every major automaker indicated they are not going to be left behind by the self-driving car revolution. More prototypes were created and now alliances are being talked about, such as Google and Ford.

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