TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- There's only one possible conclusion if you believe a panel of economists at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars here last week: The future of the North American auto industry is so bright that we should all be donning shades.
It was happy talk, yes -- but backed by a big wad of data.
New-vehicle sales in the United States have risen for 26 straight months, but "we are not even back to trend," said Mustafa Mohatarem, chief economist for General Motors. "Things are very, very positive."
For starters, North America will have a spike in sales in 2015 thanks to a "scrappage balloon" -- old vehicles biting the dust and sending those clunker owners streaming into showrooms.
Automakers are on track to exceed the North American production record of 17.2 million units in 2016. But with exports to growing markets elsewhere in the world ready to take off, production records are expected through at least 2020.
Also, manufacturers are primed to introduce or significantly rework a record number of vehicles in the next three years as they race to meet tightening fuel economy standards in 2016.
On top of that there is the return of leasing to consider, and the prospects that younger demographic groups -- the ones who, according to various surveys, don't like cars -- will change their minds when they get a job, pay down their student debt and can afford to buy one.