Martha Patterson started selling real estate in the 1990s and replaced her car every five or six years until the housing market collapsed. Then she kept her Volkswagen Passat GLS for a decade, until last June.
“I just kept holding onto my car,” said Patterson, 50, of Wilmington, Delaware, recalling how her annual commissioned sales plunged to $1 million from $5 million. “I wanted a new one, but it’s really hard to get a decent deal when you’re not making steady income.”
Millions of consumers like Patterson, who traded her 2001 model for a new Chevrolet Malibu, deferred purchases to replace older vehicles. With the average age of U.S. cars and trucks rising to a record 10.8 years, according to R.L. Polk & Co., analysts see pent-up demand boosting sales in January and driving demand to a third straight annual gain, the longest streak since U.S. sales peaked in 2000.
Light-vehicle sales in January, set for release tomorrow, may have run at a 13.4 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, the average estimate of 14 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The pace probably accelerated from 12.7 million a year earlier while automakers’ spending on incentives stayed steady or slid from a year earlier, according to analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co., RBC Capital Markets LLC and Barclays Capital.
Pent-up demand for new cars and trucks, combined with declining unemployment, rising consumer confidence and available credit may drive up full-year sales more than 6 percent to 13.6 million, the average of 12 analysts’ estimates. About 8 million vehicle purchases were deferred from 2008 to 2010, said Lacey Plache, chief economist for Edmunds.com, the Santa Monica, California-based auto-market researcher.
“You’re going to see more buyers coming back to the market, triggered by the fact that their cars are old,” Plache said.
Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. may gain the most, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts last week. Buyers who are loyal to the brands put off purchases last year while the companies dealt with production disruptions caused by the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan and floods late in the year in Thailand.
Auto-sales growth in January may be led by Chrysler Group LLC and Korea-based affiliates Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp., and be supported by improvement from Japanese automakers who are adding to inventories after rebounding to full production.
Chrysler, the U.S. automaker majority-owned by Fiat SpA, may increase deliveries by 32 percent, the average estimate of eight analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. That would be the company’s 22nd consecutive monthly sales gain on a year-to-year basis. Seoul-based Hyundai and Kia may combine to sell 18 percent more vehicles than a year earlier, the average of four estimates. That would be the duo’s 17th straight monthly sales increase on a year-to-year basis.
Toyota sales may gain for a third consecutive month, rising 7 percent, while Honda deliveries may drop 1.2 percent, the averages of six analysts’ estimates.
Deutsche Bank AG yesterday raised its 2012 U.S. sales estimate by 700,000 vehicles to 13.7 million, citing sales trends from late last year carrying into early 2012 and the probability that supply constraints will continue to ease for Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota and Tokyo-based Honda.
The new-car market also will be boosted by a smaller supply of three- to four-year-old vehicles, which compete with new- vehicle sales, Rod Lache, a New York-based analyst for Deutsche Bank, wrote in a research note yesterday. Availability of those vehicles will decline by 5.7 million, or 19 percent, this year after dropping by 3.3 million last year.
While shoppers with older models may get less at trade-in, they also may not owe money on their car.
“New-vehicle buyers are usually trading in three-, four, five-year-old vehicles,” Thomas Webb, chief economist for Manheim Consulting, said in an interview. “They will be trading in an older vehicle now, which means they might have actually paid off the loan and have some positive equity. That’s supportive to the new-vehicle market.”
Nissan Motor Co. may increase sales 7.6 percent, the average of six analysts’ estimates, while Ford Motor Co. deliveries may climb 7.9 percent, the average of eight estimates.
General Motors Co., which regained global sales leadership last year, may sell 7.3 percent fewer cars than a year earlier, the average of eight analysts’ estimates. The Detroit-based automaker may have pulled back on incentives from a year ago, when it outspent the industry average by 42 percent, according to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata Corp.
“Unlike last January, pricing discipline is maintained,” Brian Johnson, a New York-based analyst for Barclays Capital, wrote in a Jan. 26 research note. GM’s average spending on incentives per vehicle may drop 21 percent from a year earlier, while Toyota’s and Chrysler’s may decline 17 percent and 10 percent, respectively, according to Barclays estimates.
Volkswagen AG, which is targeting U.S. sales growth of more than 10 percent this year, may increase combined sales of its Volkswagen and Audi brand vehicles by 27 percent in January from the year-earlier month, the average of three estimates. The Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker plans to sell more than 500,000 cars in the U.S. this year as part of its goal to become the world’s biggest automaker by 2018.
Patterson, the Realtor in Wilmington, said the 2011 Malibu she bought in June is a quieter, smoother ride than her old Passat, with better fuel economy, more airbags, a bigger sunroof and Bluetooth wireless technology. She said she wants to buy a new Audi in a year or two.
“I’m just going along with the economy right now and trying to stay stable,” she said.
The following table shows estimates for car and light-truck sales in the U.S. Estimates for companies are a percentage change from January 2011. Forecasts for the seasonally adjusted annualized rate, or SAAR, are in millions of light vehicles.
January had 24 selling days, matching the year-earlier period.
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