Auto Sales Rise for Fourth Straight Year, With More Gains Seen in 2014

DETROIT (TheStreet) -- U.S. auto sales not only showed an increase for the fourth consecutive year in 2013, but also are expected to continue rising in the current year.

December and full-year U.S. light-vehicle sales are scheduled to be reported Friday. December sales are expected to gain about 5%. For the full year, sales are expected to total 15.6 million to 15.7 million units, up from 14.5 million units in 2012. Sales have increased steadily since 2009, when they dropped to a 27-year-low of 10.3 million units.

"The budget deal in Washington is helping fuel a higher level of optimism for the economy and auto sales in 2014," said LMC Automotive analyst Jeff Schuster in a prepared statement. "December sales faced some challenge early in the month, with some sales that pulled ahead in November and winter storms. They have rebounded well, and the year ahead is set up to edge new-vehicle sales closer to pre-recession levels."

LMC Automotive said it expects 2014 light-vehicle sales of 16.2 million, which would be back to pre-recession levels. Sales totaled 16.1 million in 2007 and 16.5 million in 2006. Kelley Blue Book forecasts 2014 sales of 16.3 million.

Sterne Agee analyst Michael Ward expects sales of 15.8 million. "Heading into 2014, we expect U.S. light vehicle sales to continue at the current pace, suggesting a range of 15.8 to 16.3 million units," Ward wrote in a recent report. "Our current forecast is at the low-end of the range."
 
Ford (F) said Monday that it expects to retain its title as the best-selling vehicle brand in North America and to widen its lead over Toyota (TM). In 2012, the Ford brand led Toyota by 329,677 vehicles. Through November, Ford's lead over Toyota was 396,041 vehicles. Through November, Ford brand retail sales were up 15%, while overall sales were up 12%.

"We are not overly reliant on any one segment -- we're seeing double-digit sales growth in cars, trucks and utilities," said John Felice, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service, in a prepared statement. "The Ford brand has had more retail share growth than any other brand in the country, with our most significant gains coming from import-dominated coastal markets," Felice said. "With 16 launches next year, we're looking to keep our sales momentum going."

Ford retail sales through November were up 23% in the West and up 18% in the Southeast. Fiesta, Fusion and Escape registered record sales in 2013, with Fiesta sales reaching about 70,000, Fusion sales exceeding 290,000 and Escape sales exceeding 300,000, Ford said.

Additionally, F-Series will be the best-selling U.S. vehicle for the 32nd consecutive year: F-Series sales totaled 688,810 through November.

Kelley Blue Book estimated that full-year 2013 full-size truck sales gained 17% over 2012 levels and said compact crossovers were the industry's hottest segment, with sales up more than 20%. "In December, there will be a tight race for the 2013 sales leader, as the Honda  (HMC) CR-V led the Ford Escape by fewer than 4,000 units going into the month," said Kelley Blue Book analyst Tim Fleming.

While 2013 sales were strong, Ford warned recently that net income will decline in 2014, due to costs associated with the product introductions.

Edmunds.com expects Ford to show a 6% sales gain in December, with GM (GM) up about 1%, Toyota up 4%, Chrysler up 8% and Honda up 6%. Overall industry gain should be 5.2%, the firm said.

"December has become one of the best times of the year to buy a new car, and there's good reason for that," said Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell in a prepared statement. "Smarter shoppers will especially zero in on leftover 2013 model year vehicles, which dealers will be more than happy to unload with big discounts and rock-bottom interest rates."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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