DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Auto sales seem likely to rise in 2011, a positive sign for both the economy and the automakers, which should all benefit as a rising tide lifts all boats.
Estimates for 2011 light vehicle sales include 13 million by Morningstar analyst David Whiston and
Whatever the exact numbers, the trend is obvious given 2009 sales of 10.4 million, the lowest total since 1970. Automakers may not be at the center of the U.S. economy, as they were a few decades ago, but it is clear that few economic indicators are more important than consumer decisions to spend tens of thousands of dollars to buy a new vehicle.
Among the automakers, the best positioned are probably Ford (F - Get Report), General Motors (GM - Get Report) and Volkswagen, said Michael Yoshikami, chief investment strategist at Bay Area-based YCMNET Advisors, which manages about $1 billion in assets.Yoshikami said reduced industry capacity is helping all the automakers, while Ford benefits from strong management, GM from reduced debt and a strong position in China, and Volkswagen from a "novel strategy in the U.S.," moving both upscale with the return of the Phaeton and downscale with the Jetta. He said Honda (HMC - Get Report) and Toyota (TM - Get Report) will "hold their own," but the momentum is with the U.S. companies and VW. A principal advantage for U.S. automakers, he said, is that they have embraced the move to electric and hybrid cars, particularly in the way that GM has