JESSE SNYDER

OK, the scary part is over

Jesse Snyder is editor of the opinion page at Automotive News.Jesse Snyder is editor of the opinion page at Automotive News.
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It’s officially safe to breathe again.

Most folks in the industry firmly believed the dreary January and February auto sales were caused primarily by wretched weather. But actually seeing March sales rebound confirms it.

It’s good to have faith. But better to have verification.

Yes, we’re back on track for a fifth straight growth year. The odds of reaching 16 million sales in 2014 are much improved.

There’s even a shot at exceeding the 16,154,010sales mark of 2007, sometimes called the “last normal year” before the recession.

Topping 16 million would be a psychological boost for the industry. But matching the last of that nine-year plateau of 16-plus million units doesn’t restore the auto industry to that standard.

Thank God.

That period was deeply unhealthy. Unit sales defied gravity for almost a decade, but only by maintaining an endless cycle of huge factory incentives chasing runaway production until the entire system crashed.

This industry balances production to demand, uses incentives on a tactical basis and both automakers and their dealers are prospering.

The scary part of the cruel winter (everywhere except the West) was the worry. Logic said buyers almost certainly would return once they dug out. But in the dark, there was that nagging what if they don’t whisper. That worry that maybe the recovery peaked in 2013, maybe we’ve started sliding down the back side of the business cycle.

Well, a 16.4 million March SAAR certainly helps banish the monsters to back under the bed.

Nearly all the positive momentum came the last two weeks -- some say the last 10 days of March. So all that creamy sales goodness was backloaded.

We’ll read the tea leaves again after April sales are in.

But the question is: “Will late March momentum continue through April?” and not “Is the recovery over?”

It’s a better set of circumstances.

You can reach Jesse Snyder at jsnyder@crain.com.

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