By on July 10, 2014

Toyota Sales Lot

The good news? Automakers are enjoying a sales boom in the United States the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Great Recession brought the hammer down, with June 2014 sales alone surpassing those in July of 2006. Should the boom continue, 2014 will close as the industry’s best year in a long time, with over 16 million vehicles sold when the calendar ticks over to 2015.

The bad news? This year may be the last year U.S. sales ever climb this high.

Autoblog reports a study by AlixPartners suggests sales will peak later this year, then head back down the mountain on the beaten path of rising interest rates — diminishing purchasing power in the process — then veer toward the long trail built upon the Millennials’ alleged preference of Uber and Car2Go over individual ownership.

In the near-term, director Dan Hearsch warns the lines of cheap credit today will dry up over the next two to three years:

The biggest factor would be this credit bubble, and without making an exact projection of when that will happen, that, to use is the window when you’ll see an impact on car sales. The other side of it is cyclical and predictable. … We’re a little more pessimistic because of these other factors.

Further up the path, rising fuel prices will temporarily give hybrids and EVs a boost in sales, but improvements in the ICE and the ongoing issues with EVs — range, higher upfront costs and production of battery packs — will mitigate whatever gains are made unless the technology comes into parity with the ICE.

Finally, AlixPartners expects 80 percent of all vehicles sold in North America by 2017 will be connected vehicles, and advises governments and OEMs to prepare for the day autonomous vehicles take their first outings beyond Google’s research facility, as such vehicles will be key to future sales.

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51 Comments on “AlixPartners: 2014 May Be The Peak Of U.S. Auto Sales...”


  • avatar
    John

    Seems to me 2015 might be the year to buy a car if these predictions are true, and you want an autonomous car that doesn’t relay your every move to the NSA. Falling sales and the tail end of low interest rates could provide some good deals.

  • avatar

    Jay Alix is the guy who came along 3 years after the auto industry bailout and wrote and article taking credit for it.

    There is still incredible pent up demand. There are many of us who believe the cost of interest rate subventions have already been priced into vehicle MSRPs. An interest rate hike of up to 2% isn’t expected to stop new vehicle sales in its tracks. Credit reports are still getting repaired from the Great Recession. Those don’t get fixed overnight. People are still going back to work. The 38% of household net worth is still being restored. All sorts of compelling new products are coming to market. As the home building business comes back there will be an increased demand for trucks

    There are people who talk about “risky loans.” The risky loan business is the most profitable loan segment as long as the risk is properly priced.

    Millennials? They have been forced by need to embrace options to vehicle ownership. As with all generations, every fad they might embrace currently won’t have staying power.

    I think we’ll see 18 million SAAR within 4 years.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      I’m not sure about the 18 mm prediction, but I agree with your sentiment about generational fads. I’m not saying that ride sharing is going to go away, or that milennials will suddenly embrace automobiles like my parents did in the 50s and 60s, but at the end of the day, ride sharing will enter into the product mix just like hybrids, electrics, etc.

      My gut is also telling me that we are getting close to a cyclical top in spending. As with all economic trends, I have no idea of timing, and most trends go on longer than anyone anticipates. If employment continues to improve then the present trend will continue. Once employment starts dropping again, this credit-fueled binge we’ve been on will start collapsing upon itself like it did before.

      The good news is that the transportation market is diversifying and changing. More options for everyone.

    • 0 avatar
      John

      I wouldn’t be so optimistic about millenials. My 17 year old daughter graduated from high school in June, and she tells me about half her senior class don’t have driver’s licenses, and have no interest in getting them – and that includes guys. She got her license as soon as she could, and has her own (used) car – she does a lot of ferrying about of friend who can’t drive. Millenials care a lot more about having the latest iPhone that having a car.

      • 0 avatar
        hreardon

        Interesting point, John. I would argue that isn’t too uncommon amongst the 17-20 year old set, many of whom are headed off to college and probably don’t want/need/can’t have a car on campus.

        Then for those who move into large cities – those kids probably won’t need cars. But if/when those kids move to locations where cars become a necessity, they’ll probably become interested in the licenses fast. ;-)

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          It isn’t just the 17-20 year olds. My 23 yo grand daughter has no interest in a new car since her 2011 Elantra still works good.

          But electronics? Now that is another matter! She has to have the latest and the greatest, like that new Samsung Galaxy S5 and the iPad Air.

          And she isn’t shy about “borrowing” a specialty vehicle like a pickup truck or minivan when the need arises.

          Just like the rest of her friends and peer group.

      • 0 avatar
        tuffjuff

        @John

        I’m 28, and in my last few years of high school the same mentality held true… until the people I knew got into the *real* world, and realized how inconvenient public transportation happened to be. Can I bus to work? Sure, if I don’t mind giving up 3-4 hours of my day for travel. Alternatively, I can drive 15-ish minutes to the office. Once your daughter’s friends need to go to collegee, get a job, an apartment, etc, they’ll realize the value of a vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      A few speed bumps on the way to that 18 million sales year:

      Vehicles last much longer than they did 15-20 years ago. In 2014, 200,000 miles is the new 100,000 miles.

      The population, as a whole, is aging. Older people drive less.

      Older, retired people not only don’t drive as much, but they also don’t need as many vehicles. I’ve seen this with older friends and family members. Some have downsized from two cars to one, because the husband and wife no longer work, and don’t need to have two separate vehicles any longer.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        The speed bump in yours is the whole concept of retiring. That is becomming a distant option for folks who either could not/would not save enough to retire, or had their savings wiped out. My wife and I will working well past retirement age, and I know we are not alone.

        Today’s white collar, computer work makes it far easier to work for as long as you want/need to, so long as your mind holds up.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          No, you’re not alone. But many people also voluntarily continue to work into their retirement years because the whole concept of “retirement” is changing from what it was for my mom and dad.

          I never thought that at age 68 I would be working as hard for myself and family as I am. But I would not trade it for anything because the possibilities are endless!

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      Agreed on the millennial comment.

      I’m 30 but have plenty of millennial acquaintances. Not having a car is great if you live and work in a city with working mass transit like NY or DC, and don’t have kids. It also works in a smaller city like Philly or Pittsburgh where it’s very bike-able. This has been the case basically forever.

      But once you get a job in a location inconvenient to mass transit, or decide it’s time to make the move to suburbia for space and school districts, cars become a necessity. Or just have a kid in general – mass transit with a baby is downright terrible. I think the stigma with millennial is just that they’ve made an effort to stay child=free and living in cities longer as a group, but they’ll be forced into 2-car ownership by their situations eventually.

  • avatar
    CapVandal

    It’s obvious that interest rates are going up soon … because they have to. And since it is obvious to everyone, everyone should be earning fortunes with this little nugget. Especially someone like Pimco’s Bill Gross.

    Except this has been obvious since 2009, and we are still waiting.

    I’ll admit, 0% financing for 60 months allows you to calculate your payment as easily as figuring out a 15% tip — just divide by 60.

    Lots of people want new cars. I do.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    it is hard to predict the future. but it is clear that an economy based on borrowing and trade deficits won’t prosper for long. On the other hand the US fleet is old (11 years average) and population is growing.

    But in a bad economy (or different priorities) people may give up that third car. the US has one of the highest car ownership rates. So many people have more than one car per driver in the household. so there is potential to downsize the fleet if needed. My observations are not statistically relevant, but mostly i see lower middle-class having three crappy cars. People that have better jobs etc. typically have one good car. I think three crappy cars somehow may cost more than one good one.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      Trade balance is calculated completely on goods moved and ignores all financial sector and ownership relations. It’s a good metric for what it is, but our economy is supported in part by US ownership of foreign manufacturing, licensing of technology etc. that isn’t in that trade balance number. I’ve made a point of being part of companies that manufacture and export US goods since getting out of the service, it’s my replacement for the cold war. I believe it’s important. I don’t think it’s direction is as big a problem as the magnitude, and that’s been improving lately.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        40% of the US trade deficit is oil. The more we do to improve fuel economy, the less dependent our economy is on oil imported from unreliable sources.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          We’re you aware that our (America’s) greatest export is gasoline and diesel fuel? And that by next year the US should easily exceed Russia and Saudi Arabia as the greatest producer of oil?

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            HDC,
            We do export a lot, but we import so much more.

            The US is already the largest petroleum producer in the world, producing nearly 12 million barrels/day. Unfortunately, we use 19M barrels/day, so we are a net importer.

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      On the 3 car thing:

      I grew up in a 3-car household, muddle to upper-middle class. With the lifestyles we were living, it would have been possible to do 2 cars, but 3 cars made it so much easier. I started driving in 1999, so gas was cheap. With 2 parents who worked, and 2 kids both involved in sports and a slew of other extra curricular activities, plus I was working as well.

      Having a 3rd driver in the house was a god-send for my parents. My dad worked a 9-5, but my mom was a nurse doing random shift work. I went to work a couple days a week after school and both days weekends, which freed them up to actually have lives outside of schlepping my brother and I to our commitments. 3 cars and 4 disparate schedules made life infinitely easier for everyone involved.

      I live in a 3-car, 2 driver household, but I am an outlier, having a fun car and a beater for myself. We could very easily be a 2-car household and still have my fun car, but I digress.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    My whole adult life America has had either growing or very large trade deficits and (except for the late 90s) budget deficits. Since 1984, any Presidential candidate can say we are drowning in debt–and be corrrect–and they have.

    Interest rates will, no make that “should”, go up. Barring a worldwide recession/depression, the price of fuel (in real terms) will go up. The aging of America and the need to provide generous(IMO) social security and health benefits means the money will have to come from somewhere–either higher taxes or inflation, both of which mean less money to spend for 95% of us.

    On top of that, all the Federal Govt’s future mandates (which cleverly occur in the FUTURE, so those who came up with these ideas won’t be held accountable) for safety and fuel economy and connectivity, etc, should they be implemented (and IMO they will be), will add content and drive up the price of cars–just as people have less to spend on them. Unlike the 1990s, there is no “get out of jail free” card in the form of inexpensive Chinese/Mexican/3rd world auto parts to cushion the blow.

    So, as was the case in the 1970s, we’ll have the situation that a prospective new car buyer in 2020 will be paying A LOT MORE for a new car than one he/she got 5-10 years ago, and it will offer LESS room and/or peerformance.

    Most of us need a car to get to work. Cars will be getting older. People will hold onto them more–but for how long? The age of one’s old car vs the cost of a new or newer one… What will the consumer give up to afford their car–cellphone? Eating out? Or will they be able to just borrow the money?

    Then again…I can’t predict the future. But for those of us who like/love cars, there were two golden car eras in the US–1964 to 1970 (which I missed), and 1985 to about now. In between, we had the malaise era of 1972-1982 (in fairness, it was not all bad–cars did acquire more features and comforts, that we now take for granted during malaise, like power steering and brakes, A/C, quieter, much better ride and handling, etc).

    Sorry for being so long-winded….

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      A great deal is directly driven by political and socio-economic constraints. Right now, with a lame-duck president and a do-nothing Congress, things look good for economic growth.

      But who knows what the November elections will bring? After all, the majority rules in America. And our current economic situation and political impasse is what the majority voted for. Not just once, but twice!

      • 0 avatar
        RogerB34

        We the People did it three times during the Depression. Then Pearl Harbor was a game changer. No catastrophic event no change likely.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Sage words, indeed. But under the current regime, and possibly that of Hillary Clinton when she gets elected president, I have serious doubts that America can handle or survive a catastrophic event.

          Our adversaries know this. That’s why China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are constantly challenging us.

          What we have is what the majority of Americans voted for. The pre-WWII isolationists are back, with a vengeance.

          The rest of us just have to suck it up and deal with it and look out for our own interests and those of our loved ones first.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            You have doubts the US could survive a catastrophic event under Obama or Clinton? Do you remember 13 years ago when the WTC and part of the Pentagon were attacked and destroyed by terrorists? Do you remember what your beloved President did? He went into hiding for a week. He hid in fear.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbqCquDl4k4

            By a week I take it you mean 7 hours. Were you even born in 2001? You’re trusting the wrong people to tell you about the world outside of your rectum.

            Here he is hiding again on September 13, 2001.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JOpGFjJg8A

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            I stand corrected by the angry old man from San Diego. Bush came out of hiding for 7 minutes.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            He wasn’t MY president. I didn’t vote for him. The terrorist threat started long before that in 1993 with the initial attack on the WTC that was only marginally successful.

            If the terrorists had been able to get a bigger bomb, they would have succeeded in bringing down the WTC. So they came back in 2001 and and completed what they set out to do in 1993. It wasn’t as if America had not been forewarned. Clinton sent a Cruise Missile to blow up some tents in the desert in 1993.

            It is my understanding that at the time of 9/11 America’s entire government was dispersed and went into undisclosed secure locations. Omaha, NB (Offutt AFB) was the hub of all strategic activity, and Ent AFB, CO, at Colorado Springs (North-American Defense Command) handled all the air defense coordination which included Canada’s Air Force patrolling America’s northern border.

            Your ” He went into hiding for a week. He hid in fear.” comment shows your naiveté of America’s security procedures in times of national emergencies.

            You should not comment on anything you know sh!t about.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            In case the verdicts of presidential historians is of value:

            Historian Robert Dallek tells a USA Today reporter: “Frankly, President Bush made an initial mistake. The president’s place is back in Washington”

            Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley adds, “If I were Bush, I’d be in the White House right now, saying, ‘We took a hit at the Pentagon and had a disaster in New York, but the government of the United States is unscathed by this and we’re going to march forward.’”

            When Dallek’s words appear in print, White House political adviser Karl Rove calls Dallek to inform him that Bush did not return to Washington right away because of security threats to the White House and Air Force One. Rove provides no substantiation for his claims, and media critic Eric Alterman later asks, “If you think Air Force One is to be attacked why go up in Air Force One?”

            New York Times columnist Frank Rich later writes, “September 11 was the first time since the British set fire to the White House in 1814 that a president abandoned the capital for security reasons.”

            He abandoned his post, just as he did 30 years earlier when he abandoned the National Guard, a posting his connected father got him to keep him from serving in Vietnam.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            What difference does it make?

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            Exactly, 28. So what?

          • 0 avatar
            jkross22

            “What we have is what the majority of Americans voted for. The pre-WWII isolationists are back, with a vengeance.”

            The problem doesn’t appear to be that Americans are isolationists, rather it appears the problem is Americans not believing that responsible and informed citizenry is their job.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I was actually trying to get in a Hillary quip. If the logic of her statement was correct in response to Benghazi, than it is certainly correct in this discussion as well.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            28, if Hillary had been the candidate in 2008, I would have voted for her. But if she runs again in 2016, she’s got too much baggage for me now.

            While we will never know, I believe that Hillary would have won in 2008 over McCain, and that Hillary would have been a far better president than what we’ve got now, and that there would have been a whole lot less finger pointing and blaming others for the current economic woes.

            Bill Clinton would have been the best advisor ANY president could have and his experience as two-term US president and governor of Arkansas would have brought America upright again after the financial crisis of 2008.

            But fear not, there will be another financial crisis, some say as soon as 2015 or 2016 and pretty much involve the same major players as before, but now with China, Brazil and Russia as well.

            And that is when we need real leadership in the US — something that has been lacking and missing since 2009.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            VoGo,

            The ‘historians’ you quote don’t let the facts get in their ways. I showed you videos of Bush in the oval office on the night of 9/11/01 and on 9/13/01. Does this mean that he was in hiding on the 12th? Maybe he was busy. Maybe he had a fund raiser and a golf game to play. Oh wait, that’s what the current traitor does in times of crisis. You showed your hand when you regurgitated propaganda about Bush’ time in the National Guard that has been proven false time and again. Would I have done most things the way Bush did? Never. Do I think he made HUGE mistakes? Absolutely. I don’t have to lie to myself and others to hold my opinions though, which is something that I wouldn’t say about you.

  • avatar

    I think the auto industry as a whole knows how to adjust for real public demand. I sell more trucks to people who tow a camper two days a year and SUVs that are perfect for trips to the beach once a year than small cars to people who recognize its still more than they need. Most small car sales still go to budget buyers. Rate changes will just change budgets, not demand. Millenials also tend not to have experience fixing cars so home repairs will continue to drop and we get a lot of sales business out of our service dept for $2000 genuine repair bills so while vehicles last longer I don’t know who many families will keep the same car any longer.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      I have a friend who thinks he and his wife need a full sized SUV for their once-per-year roadtrip. Just the two of them and occasionally two more adults.

      It boggles my mind.

  • avatar
    TheyBeRollin

    Rising interest rates alone won’t do it. I will be surprised if they ever move much past 2% on captive financing from manufacturers on new cars. I do expect used car values to drop dramatically when interest rates increase since the costs of the loans will shoot up, but only after supply and demand have reached some kind of equilibrium in the used market (this seems to be a long way off). Manufacturers can easily play a shell game with production efficiency increases/automation and invoice prices. If you look closely, you’ll see that they’re already playing this game.

    The bigger headwind is that we are about to run out of Baby Boomers that are in their peak spending years. Once this happens, the economy is going to collapse again (it never really recovered, it just appeared to as older boomers pushed money into the market chasing returns for their retirements).

    Not trying to be a chicken little, but the future looks bleak.

    • 0 avatar
      RogerB34

      True
      The economy stalled beginning 2001 despite record consumer debt and a real estate bubble. 2.3 percent average 2000 – 2008 vs 1930 – 1999 average of 3.7 percent per year. Excluding 2009 at -2.8 the average through 2013 is 2.0 percent per year. Bleak is optimistic given what has happened past 6 years.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        Yep, the economy is stagnant and has been for years. Regulations are retarding us, our debt is killing us, and entitlement spending will eventually destroy us.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          Let’s get a grip here.
          1. The economy is by no means stagnant, it’s been growing steadily for 6 years.

          2. The US is one of the least regulated countries in the developed world. If you feel retarded, it’s likely not from regulation.

          3. Debt isn’t killing anyone. The recent growth in debt was caused by The Great Recession, and deficits are falling quickly, now that the economy is back on track.

          Debt may be a drag on growth, but another word for debt is investment. Every dollar spent on education, Head Start and WIC has huge dividends for future generations.

          4. Entitlement spending is also known as Social Security and Medicare, which are overwhelmingly approved by the majority of Americans.

          • 0 avatar
            RogerB34

            That is the steady propaganda line.
            Hope and change you can believe in.
            SS and Medicare overwhelmingly approved by the majority means the majority is entitled to pay costs.

          • 0 avatar
            jkross22

            Debt is falling quickly??

            http://www.usdebtclock.org/

            Know what’s great about this link? It allows you to see the debt in different years. For example:

            2004 – 7.4T
            2008 – 10.3T
            2012 – 15.7T
            2014 – 17.5T

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            OK, Roger,
            Name a single Republican leader who is respected within his own party who is calling for the elimination of Social Security.

            Just name one.

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            Always with the personal insults Vogo. What is the point?

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            JKross,
            Debt is not falling quickly, and that’s not what I wrote. I wrote that deficits are falling quickly, meaning that the pace of increase is much lower now that the economy is back on track. You need to look at more granular data than every 4 years to see that.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            THelaine,
            I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, only to point out that what you wrote is not accurate.

          • 0 avatar
            RogerB34

            You spin the SS issue.
            From inception SS was a pay as you go program with benefits scaled to individual payments.
            It was never designed as a retirement entitlement system nor envisioned as the disability entitlement retirement program without regard to individual payments.
            If the majority approve SS then the majority are obligated to support their vote.

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            “The US is one of the least regulated countries in the developed world. If you feel retarded, it’s likely not from regulation.”

            You are clearly being disingenuous.

            dis·in·gen·u·ous

            /ˌdisinˈjenyo͞oəs/

            adjective

            adjective: disingenuous

            not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.

            synonyms: insincere, dishonest, untruthful, false, deceitful, duplicitous, lying, mendacious; More
            hypocritical

            You are not fooling anyone, and your references to “hurt feelings” deliberately condescending. You are not clever, but you are typical for someone who espouses your viewpoints.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      I agree that the future looks bleak, from more than one perspective. However, like any other situation, there is money to be made and goals to be attained in the mean time.

      I’m not concerned with rising interest rates or the price of gasoline. What I am concerned with is the availability of what I want when I want it.

      And speaking for myself, MY2015/2016 are going to be my buying years for a new SUV/CUV and a new truck regardless of interest rates or the price of gasoline. But that is largely driven by my age and goal of fully retiring from the work force by age 70.

      I fully expect that millions of other Americans in my age and peer group are planning pretty much the same. Now, once that baby-boomer group I belong to has bought their “last” vehicle, there won’t be nearly as many buyers for the future generations.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      Well, there are a lot of different boomers out there, as it is generally accepted that the boom ran from ’46 to ’64. My parents are from the ’40′s and have bought what they believe is their “last car,” a 2014 Accord. There are still a lot of boomers out there with 10-20 years left to work. That being said, and anecdotally, it’s been my experience that the boomers born in the late 50′s have not been nearly as successful as those born right after the war. I know quite a few people in their mid to late 50′s who are seriously struggling right now. Too young to retire, but to old and too unskilled in the modern workplace to find anything meaningful to do.

      The year of your birth can inform the cycle of your life in many ways. I was fortunate to be born at the bottom of the trough following the baby boom, and consequently, people of my year got plenty of attention and resources, and came of age before September 11th and the start of the economic issues. That’s a pure accident on my part, but I’m grateful for the life I have.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Why all the panic? Just because some guy who annoyed himself an expert says so?

    Yes millenials drive less for now…….they all can’t live in a coastal city with super mass transit infrastructure. Some have to live in the fly over states that are just too big, too spread out etc. Some day…….they will get a life, move out of mom and dad’s basement, get married, have kids and need to go to the grocery twice a week and buy stuff like food and shampoo and toilet paper (the later of which they will learn does not actually grow on the roll and has to be purchased). When these events start happening they will need transportation, aka a car.

    We still have a lot of 8 year old or older cars on the road in the U,S. Despite the best efforts of even the most frugal and mechanically savy here on this blog, these cars will ultimately succumb to rust, age, accidents, etc that will render them no longer useful. Everything reaches a point of diminishing returns, cars, widgets, human life….nothing lasts forever.

    Yes rates will go up, yes the general public will have to reevaluate and perhaps purchase a Corrola instead of a Camry. But, purchase a car they will.

    God bless, enough with the he spent the dough garbage. THEY all spent the dough republican or democrat. WE elected them democrat or republican, we as a society did this. It is a fools errand to think that if MY guy or MY gal was elected we would not be in this mess, we would. They all cater to their group and all the groups want one thing, more money.

    • 0 avatar
      RogerB34

      I purchased a 1967 Ford Galaxie 289 for $2k with 1800 miles 1969. It was sold in 1991 with over 125k miles. Think maybe I didn’t want something better? Fix or Repair Daily. Depression lesson: Don’t do consumer debt. Don’t. No dipping into home equity either. No bling, clothes or vacations. Retirement rewards if any. Also paid 5 years each two daughters state college full ride, transportation, seed money on graduation. House free and clear at 65.
      $30k for a car on time? Clueless and that is a national problem,


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