Just as baseball had its dark period of individual achievement marred by the use of performance enhancers, the auto industry may be slipping into its own asterisk era when it comes to sales.
While it's seemed like a pleasant surprise that sales may top 17 million again this year, the results have been buoyed by near-record fleet sales, which are up 5.8 percent through September, accounting for 17.4 percent of total reported sales, according to Cox Automotive.
We like to think automakers have wised up about the perils of fleet reliance. And maybe they're doing smarter fleet business now than before the recession and bankruptcies.
In addition to rental and government fleets, there are commercial buyers — which include the dealers themselves.
Service loaners — often purchased with a heavy subsidy from the automaker and to meet some just-out-of-reach stair-step goal — are new-vehicle sales washed through the service department and spun out a short time later onto the used lot. That's fine when the used-vehicle market is strong but perilous when it turns south.
So it's OK for dealers to enjoy this extended stay above a 17 million SAAR, but they should be cautious not to become addicted to those easy end-of-month sales.