US sees best auto sales since 1973
Automakers can thank a mending economy, rising gas prices and an aging fleet on the roads for their success.
The recovering economy certainly has something to do with this boom. But there's another factor at play here as well: Drivers have given up on trying to get more miles out of their old clunkers. The average age of a U.S. car is a record 10.8 years.
Analysts think auto sales rose about 9.8% in December, Bloomberg reports. If that's the case, automakers will have seen three straight years of growth of at least 10%. That's an amazing feat, one that hasn't been achieved for nearly four decades.
Superstorm Sandy gets some credit for this year's numbers as people rushed to replace damaged cars. The storm may have increased auto sales by about 50,000 in December, according to analysts at Credit Suisse. Auto sales for the month probably hit 1.37 million, bringing the full-year total to 14.5 million -- the best sales in five years. Automakers will report December sales Thursday.
What a change for an industry so battered in the recession that two out of the three major U.S. automakers took federal bailouts. Chrysler and General Motors (GM) filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009.
This year, GM has seen its share price rise 43% from July. Shares of Ford (F) are up 44% in that same period. Chrysler has seen 32 straight months of sales gains.
The automakers can also thank years of climbing gas prices for their sales. All of them shifted to producing more fuel-efficient vehicles years ago, knowing that consumers would soon turn in that direction as each trip to the pump became a little more painful. Ford, for example, saw a 76% increase in November year-over-year sales of its Focus, C-Max hybrids and Fiesta models, MLive reports.
Expect more of the same for 2013. Sales of new vehicles will be even better, likely around 15.3 million from 14.5 million in 2012, according to market researcher Polk.
"The auto sector is likely to continue to be one of the key sectors that leads the U.S. economic recovery," Anthony Pratt, director of forecasting for the Americas at Polk, said in a statement reported by Reuters. "However, we don't expect to realize pre-recession levels in the 17 million vehicles range for many years."
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