DETROIT (Dec. 28, 2011)—Rising employment, better credit availability, new products and urgency to replace aging vehicles will drive U.S. auto sales higher in 2012, forecasters are predicting.
Recent sales predictions from 11 independent analysts range from 13 million light vehicles (Wells Fargo Securities) to 14 million (Morgan Stanley), yielding an average outlook of 13.6 million, which would be about 6 or 7 percent ahead of this year's expected sales 12.7 million to 12.8 million units.
The 1 million unit spread in forecasts is narrower than the 1.5 million spread among 2011 forecasts by seven analysts a year ago.
All the analysts said they expect as much disruptive and unsettling economic news in 2012 as there was this year, but they said American auto buyers aren't scaring as easily as they did three years ago when the financial crisis hit.
Crisis-jaded consumers have become less likely to change car-buying behavior based on economic news—good or bad, said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.
Gutierrez noticed the change this past summer during the congressional debt-ceiling standoff that triggered a cut in the U.S. credit rating.
“The Dow fell 1,500 points—and car sales stayed smooth and consistent,” he noted. “The American consumer has seen so much gone wrong. If they have to buy a car, they will.”
Economic ups and downs won't alter 2012 auto sales significantly, said Jeff Schuster, top forecaster of the Americas for LMC Automotive, formerly a unit of J.D. Power and Associates. He's forecasting sales of 13.8 million.