2011’s big question? Here’s Mike Jackson’s view

The big wild card for 2011, according to AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson?

It’s not credit. It’s not vehicle pricing. No, for Jackson, the big wild card of the year is: Where will gasoline prices go, and how will customers respond?

He expects less sticker shock than in early 2008, when spikes in gasoline prices, to over $4 a gallon, turned the market and consumer buying patterns upside down.

“The freak-out point for the customer is higher than it was in ’08,” Jackson said. “I think we’re better able to handle it.”

He was speaking of both customers and the industry. Manufacturers have drastically lowered inventory levels and trimmed capacity since 2008, so they are less vulnerable to a rapid migration to smaller vehicles. They also have more of those smaller varieties available.

Still, gasoline prices have been on the rise and oil prices continue to climb with the turmoil in Egypt, so Jackson is keeping a watchful eye.

Despite those rising prices, AutoNation hasn’t spotted any change in consumer behavior yet. Trucks continue to sell well. In January, pickup sales at AutoNation dealerships rose 39 percent.

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