Analysts expect modest gains in U.S. auto sales in 2012
U.S. auto sales will improve this year, a quartet of speakers tonight at a Society of Automotive Analysts conference agreed. How much, of course, they couldn’t agree.
In 2011, U.S. auto sales grew 10 percent to 12.78 million vehicles. If that pace continues through 2012, then the market would see about 14 million in sales this year. That would be the high end of most analysts' current forecasts.
Europe’s sovereign debt crisis could spook U.S. auto buyers, said UBS director Colin Langan, whose forecast of 13.3 million units, was lowest of the group as the met in Detroit.
So could a fresh spike in the U.S. jobless rate, said analyst Brandon Mason of PwC Autofacts.
By contrast, even a modest improvement in U.S. unemployment could spark a disproportionately large surge in auto purchases, argued Mustafa Mohatarem, chief economist of General Motors.
“We talked ourselves into so much fear of buying a car that even a small improvement could spark bigger upside” in 2012, he said. With slowdowns or slower growth in developing markets, “the U.S. could lead the global economy this year.”
Paul Taylor, chief economist of the National Automobile Dealers Association, expects “strong competition” in the second half of 2012 as Japanese manufacturers restore inventories and try to recapture market share they lost to the Detroit 3 and South Korea’s Hyundai-Kia in 2011.
“I expect the Detroit 3 will have to fight to hang onto the share they won so we’ll see more incentives as the year goes on,” Taylor said. “With the aging car fleet, continued low interest rates and more competition, the result will be a pretty good year.
His expectation of 13.9 million units in 2012, which would be up about 8 percent from 2011, was the highest single-point forecast of the group. GM’s corporate forecast is 13.5 to 14 million.
The group said the biggest single uncertainty this year is whether the European debt crisis will significantly affect on U.S. auto sales, with Taylor most concerned about a tightening of U.S. lending standards.
Mason noted the quartet’s forecasts vary but they all are in line.
“It’s all a question of when do we get to stabilized growth?” he said. “And I think we all think it’s fairly soon.”
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