Looking for a positive sign? How about ‘13’

The first few months of 2011 could have been 10 years go, so much has happened -- and gone wrong -- since then.

January, February and March saw a general euphoria that things were coming back. Like people who fled the burning building that was 2009, many in the auto business were still trying to get the smell of smoke out of their hair. First quarter 2011 brought the sweet aroma of economic rebound. Things looked promising.

And then came a lousy spring, followed by a depressing summer of worries.

But consider the number 13.

As late as April, U.S. new-vehicle sales were indicating a seasonally adjusted selling rate of just over 13 million vehicles for the year, a level not seen since the summer of 2008. That was something to feel good about. To come close to a 13 million sales year again would restart a lot of engines around North America. Even though SAARs are a bit academic, the magic power of envisioning “13” seemed to lift the auto industry, and in turn the entire spirit of the U.S. economy.

But then more trouble came, and the SAAR dropped to 11.7 million in May and to 11.5 million in June. So things weren’t so hot after all, apparently.

But for those who missed it, the tea leaves turned favorable again this week. September’s SAAR came in at 13.09 million.

Magic 13? No forecaster worth his weight in lug nuts would use that statistic to pronounce that the industry tide has officially turned. But we might at least take some comfort in observing that the business has made it back to where it was earlier this year when things were starting to feel good again.

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