U.S. sales expected to rise 5% to 16.3M in 2014, analyst says

DETROIT -- U.S. auto sales will rise 5 percent to 16.3 million light vehicles in 2014, "but we have a chance for up to 16.8 million if automakers lose discipline," says analyst Alec Gutierrez of Kelley Blue Book.

After four years of auto sales recovery, the industry is poised to surpass the 16.1 million-unit volume of 2007, the last "normal year" before the Great Recession, Gutierrez said in a media briefing here today.

Automakers remained relatively restrained in terms of production and sales incentives during 2013, even as sales growth slowed to 8 percent from the double digit pace of the previous three years. Average vehicle transaction prices rose to $32,077 in 2013, 9 percent higher than in 2007, while per-unit incentives fell to 8 percent of transactions from 9 percent in 2007, he said.

This year, even slower growth poses a danger of a market-share shootout as brands find growth harder to come by, Gutierrez said.

"We could go as high as 16.8 million if someone breaks rank and tries to buy some market share," he warned.

You can reach Jesse Snyder at jsnyder@autonews.com -- Follow Jesse on Twitter: https://twitter.com/spartyjesse