Jesse Snyder
Jesse Snyder
Opinion Page Editor

An impressive streak, locked and still going

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With July volume up 9 percent and full-year forecasts ramping higher, 2014 is increasingly appearing locked in as the fifth straight year of U.S. auto sales growth.

Take a moment to savor that.

Hot streaks of five years or more are rare in this industry.

It has happened just five other times this century and last — and only one of those would be remembered by anybody except your great-great grandpa.

Let’s put aside the first three streaks: 1901-07, 1909-17 and 1921-26. From 1900, with 2,288 total sales, to 1926’s tally of 3.6 million units sold, the U.S. auto industry didn’t have two consecutive down years. That’s almost three decades of explosive growth.

Even the five-year, post-Depression hot streak starting in 1933 and ending in 1937 was marked by startup-like growth. And 1937 volume still didn’t match 1929’s peak sales of 4.3 million.

Since 1937, the only other five-year streak of gains was 1996 to 2000. It was pretty limp as rallies go, stringing together growth of 3 percent, 0.1 percent, 3 percent, one decent 9 percent gain in 1999 and another 3 percenter. That’s a net sales gain of 18 percent between 1995 and 2000.

This rally is unique. Each year of growth has been strong. The first four added more than a million units each. This year, sales are on track to expand by more than 700,000 units.

If we end this year at 16.3 million sales, it would generate an impressive 56 percent gain in volume since 2009’s crater of 10.4 million.

And a net gain of 5.9 million units. That beats any other rally, including the early go-go days and the 1947-1950 boom when civilian auto production resumed after World War II.

Perhaps the best part about this rally? It isn’t over yet. Everybody expects 2015 sales to rise, and most forecasters see more growth, though more modest, in 2016 and beyond.

In the fifth year of a big rally, having a solid shot at more is rare indeed.

So take a moment -- just a shortie, though. There’s work to be done.

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

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