In the beginning of the new millennium, U.S. new auto sales topped 17 million a few times as Americans used the assumed equity in their houses to stuff their three car garages with more cars than there were driver’s licenses in the nation. In 2000, a total of 17,349,700 new cars changed hands. A year later, 17,121,900 units. It deteriorated from there. In 2007, 16,089,300 cars were sold. And we know what happened thereafter.
If we buy and sell 11.5 million new cars this year, it will be called a recovery. For 2011, J.D.Power sees maybe 12.8 million, if it all works out. They had seen a bit more before, but grew cautious lately. Now, a prophet appeared that predicts the miracle everybody prays for, a return to former (albeit fleeting) glory:
Michael Robinet, director of global production forecasts for IHS Automotive, said that U.S. new car sales could top 17 million by 2015. “That would be a huge reversal from the historically low sales levels that brought the industry to its knees during the recent recession,” even Detroit’s hometown paper, the Freep, has to concede.
At a presentation made in front of the rapt audience of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit, Robinet counted down the usual number of reasons: Pent-up demand, a growing U.S. population and aging baby boomers with discretionary income.
Robinet agrees with J.D Power and expects sales of 12.8 million or more next year. Then his charts jump to 16 million in 2013 before reaching 17 million in 2015. Of course, he keeps a little hedge. High gas prices over an extended period of time could suppress vehicle sales, Robinet revealed. Who would have thought.
There is just one fly in the ointment. Prophecies by IHS don’t have a stellar track record. Remember a year ago, when a respected research company had announced in November 2009 that Volkswagen had overtaken Toyota in worldwide sales and would end 2009 as the world’s largest automaker? The announcement had emanated from IHS. It made headlines the world over. It was total bunk.
Toyota ended that year as #1, GM was #2, and Volkswagen #3. IHS had made a total mess of the numbers, had forgotten to count Daihatsu, Hino, Audi and sundry others, prematurely put Porsche into VW’s 2009 numbers, and overlooked one simple fact. According to their (wrong) calculations, Volkswagen had sold more than 4.4 million cars by November 2009, “beating Toyota by more than 400,000 vehicles.” It didn’t dawn on them that you can’t possibly be the world’s largest if you had only sold 4.4 million by November. Toyota sold 7.2 million that year, GM 6.5 million, and Volkswagen 6 million.
As much as we wish the glory days to return: Beware of false prophets.