Sales are up (so how come so glum?)

U.S. auto sales are rising in July, running ahead of last year's pace. July will be, in fact, the eighth straight month of year-over-year sales gains. Automakers, suppliers, dealers – nearly everybody – are lean, mean profit machines these days. Analysts universally forecast annual sales increases the next four years at least.

And despite that, what a miserable bunch of sad sacks we all are. Sales and profits up and more of the same ahead (sigh). How sad.

We are, in a word, disappointed. We want so much more. And we want it so much faster.

Yes, U.S. auto sales are up 17 percent in the first half of 2010. But that's compared to the worst six months in any of our adult memories.

And yes, we're all properly glad that we cut costs enough to survive. Yes, we know that even a small uptick like this bumps us firmly into the black. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

We are also impatient. After crashing from eight years of 16 million annual sales to 10.4 million in 2009, we want a bigger, faster bounce on the recovery side.

We already didn't like forecasts of less than 12 million 2010 sales when we first heard them. So cuts in earlier sales forecasts – and this week J.D Power trimmed its 2010 forecast to 11.7 million from 11.8 million and IHS Automotive cut its outlook to 11.5 million from 11.8 million – is even less welcome.

Maybe it's time to savor small gains. Last July, cash-for-clunkers boosted demand during the last week enough for the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate to climb above 10 million for the first time that year. Even the most pessimistic forecaster (IHS Automotive's George Magliano) thinks this July will beat that one, and Power sees a July SAAR of 12.2 million.

If you can't celebrate that, then plan to be on vacation Sept. 1 when August sales are reported against the backdrop of 2009's clunker-swollen 13.7 million SAAR.

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