Ford analyst George Pipas reckons the recession is over; the U.S. economy is on its way to recovery. New car sales will, uh, stay the same. “I think that we won’t fall backward from October. How much November might advance from the October level it is too early to say . . . The fourth quarter will be stronger from an auto sales standpoint than a pre-clunkers level.” Translation: the U.S. new car market is bumping along at the bottom. Lest we forget, Pipas’ “pre-clunkers level” promised land was already significantly down from pre-crash volumes. Anyway, Pipas admits that Ford 2010 sales gains will be “modest” thanks to . . . wait for it . . . the perception gap. “[Unemployment] is a drag on consumer psychology. The recession may be over and the recovery may have begun, but for many, many consumers it may not feel like it’s over even 12 months from now.” The Detroit News reports that Pipas also predicts $4 a gallon gas by next summer, cementing the consumer shift towards smaller vehicles. What’s more, “Consumers in the future will be more careful about living within their means.” And if not, even better.