Dealers refine their optimism on 2012 new-vehicle sales

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DETROIT -- When my dad’s 1976 Cadillac Coupe DeVille hit 200,000 miles, we had to pull off the road.

The car wasn’t broken down. He just wanted to commemorate the moment with a photo of the odometer.

But today, 200,000 miles isn’t a big deal. Many people are holding onto their vehicles longer and driving them farther. It’s a trend unlikely to reverse anytime soon, some dealers admit.

For that reason, many dealers who were wildly optimistic for a 2012 new-vehicle sales spurt earlier this year have a more measured outlook for sales growth now as they see consumers reluctant to trade in old for new.

For one thing, similar to my dad, some consumers realize it’s financially savvy to keep a car as long as possible. That belief is especially true given the economic uncertainty that has plagued the country over the past few years, one dealer said.

But some other dealers say the continued economic queasiness in the United States and concerns over the impact that Europe’s woes could have abroad are also adding to many consumers’ reluctance to trade up for a new vehicle.

Then, there is political uncertainty with an upcoming U.S. election also giving some consumers pause, they say.

Now factor in recent weather events such as Tropical Storm Debby and the drought and wildfires out West. Psychologically, the weather crisis has added to an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty, some dealers say. And, of course, it can be devastating for consumers directly affected by such catastrophes.

Finally, there’s the fact that vehicles are built better to last longer these days.

All of this is making dad’s milestone appear to one day become more the rule rather than the exception.

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com. -- Follow Jamie on Twitter

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