Best vehicle sales streak since 1973 boosts U.S. dealers

U.S. light-vehicle sales probably rose in December to wrap up a three-year run unrivaled in almost four decades as consumers replaced cars and trucks that are, on average, the oldest ever on the nation’s roads.

Car and light truck sales in the U.S. probably rose 9.8 percent in December, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts. That would cap a third-straight annual gain of at least 10 percent, the first such industry streak since 1973.

“It sure feels a lot better to be selling cars today than a few years ago,” Geoffrey Pohanka, president of the Pohanka Automotive Group, said in a telephone interview. “The age of the fleet and the attractiveness of a lot of cars that are being designed now are going to help sustain sales going forward.”

That confidence in continued demand has his Washington, D.C.-area dealer group expanding only a few years after retrenchment. Pohanka closed three Saturn stores and a Chrysler- Dodge outlet as part of the 2009 restructurings of the predecessors to General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC. In 2013, he plans to build a second Honda store in as many years and also will add a new Volkswagen dealership.

U.S. light-vehicle sales in December likely climbed to almost 1.37 million, the average of estimates by 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. That would push deliveries for the full year to 14.5 million, the best annual total since 2007.

Sandy Demand

Lingering replacement demand from owners of damaged vehicles and purchases deferred by superstorm Sandy on the East Coast may have boosted vehicle sales by about 50,000 in December, Credit Suisse Group AG estimated in a Dec. 27 report. The annualized industry sales rate, adjusted for seasonal trends, may have been 15.4 million for December, the average of 15 analysts’ estimates.

The projected pace for December almost matches November’s 15.5 million sales rate, the best month for industrywide deliveries since January 2008. Automakers report December sales figures tomorrow.

Honda Motor Co.’s sales increase in December may lead all automakers with a gain of 32 percent, the average of eight analysts’ estimates. The Tokyo-based automaker introduced a revamped Civic compact and redesigned Accord sedan -- its two top-selling models -- late last year.

“They’re getting back to what Honda’s best at, which is value for the money,” said Pohanka, whose dealership group already includes three Honda stores in Maryland and Virginia. “The new Accord has just taken off. The Civic is going to continue to do well.”

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