Trucks at Work

How long can this boom last?

It’s been a record setting year for light vehicles at this point, both here in the U.S. and for the world as a whole. The question now, however, centers on just how long this boom is going to last – and what follows when the current pace of light vehicle sales begins its inevitable slowdown.

Until that time, however, John Humphrey – senior VP of the global automotive practice at J.D. Power & Associates – said in a recent report that new-vehicle sales continue to follow this summer’s “hot streak” with no evidence of the pace slowing.

New-vehicle retail sales in August are projected to come in at 1.27 million units – a 12% increase from the same month last year and the highest monthly sales volume since 2006 – while total light-vehicle sales are also expected to increase by 12% year-over-year to over 1.49 million units, the firm reported.

Humphrey added that the seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) in August is expected to be 13.1 million units, marking the first time the selling rate has been above 13 million units for three consecutive months since the first quarter of 2007.

"The industry as a whole continues to experience a robust improvement in demand, and our forecast for August is looking to be the best month for retail sales that we've seen in the past seven years," he pointed out. "Moreover, this strong selling environment is occurring when consumers are spending more on new vehicles than any month on record, which is a further indication of the underlying strength of the sector."

Based on those August light vehicle sales numbers, research firm LMC Automotive – which works with J.D. Power on its monthly sales analysis – is maintaining its 2013 forecast for retail light-vehicle sales at 12.8 million units and total light-vehicle sales at 15.6 million units.

"The U.S. auto recovery seems to be operating on auto pilot, a welcome stage of stability at a higher pace," added Jeff Schuster, LMC’s senior VP-forecasting. "We do expect to see a lower selling rate in September as Labor Day is counted in August sales, but upside potential still outweighs downside risk in 2013 and well into 2014."

Light vehicle OEMs are also reporting records of their own as part of this ongoing light vehicles sales boom.

General Motors, for example, announced this week that it expects its Chevrolet division to sell 5 million vehicles by the end of 2013 – a first-ever sales figure achieved over the company’s 100 year history, the OEM said.

Commercially-focused light vehicle platforms are seeing success, too. Nissan for example said it has sold 170,000 of its new NV200 compact cargo van to date and expects to sell 200,000 of them by year’s end – a van now being sold in more than 40 countries after recent launches in the U.S. and South Africa.

That’s a big deal for the OEM as it said that the compact van is a key global growth vehicle as Nissan seeks to become the world’s leading manufacturer of light commercial vehicles or “LCVs” by the end of its 2016 fiscal year.

Demand for pickup trucks, of course, continues to soar and Ford Motor Co. is witnessing a huge benefit from that still-escalating trend.

J.D. Power said Ford is maintaining one of the strongest increases in North American vehicle production since 2012; an increase of 13% on higher demand for its F-Series pickups and Explorer SUVs as well as the redesigned Escape and higher Explorer and F-Series volume.

Overall, North American light-vehicle production year-to-date through July is up 4% from the same period in 2012, according to LMC, with total light vehicle production in North American expected to hit 16 million units, a 4% increase from 2012.

Meanwhile – and perhaps more importantly – LMC said light vehicle OEMs are successfully maintaining a lean supply-to-demand ratio, with vehicle stock at the beginning of August falling to an average 56-day supply from 61 days in July. The overall inventory level has dropped to 2.9 million units from 3.3 million units in July, the firm added.

So far, so good, then; we’ll just have to wait and see how long the legs truly are for this light vehicle sales boom. 

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