Global car sales rise above pre-recession levels

The global automotive market has continued to soar past pre-recession levels as expanding Asian markets drive demand, analysts said at Standard & Poor’s (S&P) Auto Industry Hot Topics Conference in New York.

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Sales of new vehicles in the United States will still fall short of their pre-recession levels in 2012, however.

Global light vehicle sales are expected to grow to 80.8 million units in 2012, a 5% increase over last year’s volumes and a 15% increase over the 70 million cars sold in the pre-crisis year of 2007, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of global forecasting at LMC Automotive.

Leading the recovery in global automotive demand is Asia.

Chinese automotive sales in particular could possibly surpass 30 million units per year by 2030, more than doubling current sales estimates, on the back of government incentives and rising demand, despite some short-term uncertainty ahead of a leadership change this year, said Schuster.

The US automotive market has not returned to the pre-recession levels of 16.1 million units sold in 2007, but it is nonetheless outperforming market expectations, with sales for 2012 projected at 14.3 million, up 12% from last year’s totals.

Short-term factors driving sales in the United States include favorable interest rates and consumers replacing their aging vehicles, while a growing population will contribute to the market’s long-term stability, Schuster said.

Auto sales have comfortably outpaced housing starts since the beginning of the recession, partially due to a “catch-up” as consumers’ vehicles age, said S&P deputy chief economist and senior director Beth Anne Bovino. “People are going to need those cars to get to those job interviews,” she said.