By Dow Jones Business News,
January 14, 2014, 03:09:00 PM EDT
By Neal E. Boudette
DETROIT--U.S. auto sales have climbed back to precrisis levels, and auto-industry executives are expressing
confidence they will continue rising for several more years.
In addition to its improving economy, the U.S. should get a steady lift from its rising population and the
country's positive energy situation, executives said Monday at the North American International Auto Show.
"All the fundamentals look positive," said Steven Cannon, chief executive of the U.S. sales unit of Daimler AG'sMercedes-Benz division. "The U.S. is very much a growth market for the auto industry."
He and other executives cautioned that the economy could be jarred at any time by events in the Middle East or
other unstable regions of the world, and that the sluggish European economy remains a concern in the global economic
Still, the overall view expressed in Detroit was upbeat. Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Alan Mulally said he is
optimistic about the U.S. and global economies and the outlook for vehicle sales. Speaking to reporters on the sidelines
of the Detroit auto show Monday, Mr. Mulally said he expects the U.S. economy will grow by about 2.5% this year, and
that vehicle sales in the U.S. will rise above 16 million vehicles for the year.
Scott Keogh, head of sales for Audi AG, the premium-car division of Volkswagen AG, said the U.S.'s increasingly
favorable energy situation is also a positive for auto sales. Increased oil and gas production from hydraulic
fracturing, or fracking, is turning the U.S. into a major energy exporter.
"That changes the balance of trade; it puts big jobs out there, lowers fuel prices," Mr. Keogh said.
Other conditions that have been driving U.S. auto sales are also expected to continue. The stock market is at a
high, giving Americans a confidence to splurge more on cars. The housing market continues to improve. The jobs market is
making gains, albeit slowly. Many Americans who put off purchases during the economic crisis now need new cars, too. The
average car in use today is about 11 years old.
On top of that, consumers are able to borrow money at favorable terms, even as the Federal Reserve prepares to
taper off its bond-buying measures to help the economy.
"If you look at the cost of money and interest rates, they are still at extremely low levels," Mr. Keogh said.
Write to Neal E. Boudette at email@example.com
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