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GM, Ford predict ’13 sales will top 15M units

Keywords: Tags  Automotive sales forecast, General Motors, Mark Reuss, Kurt McNeil, Mustafa Mohatarem, Ford Motor, Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, Corinna Petry

CHICAGO — General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. are projecting higher vehicle sales in 2013.

Speaking during monthly sales calls, executives at both automakers sounded bullish on consumer demand, citing steady employment, low interest rates and a growing driving-age population, as well as the aging of vehicles currently on the road and a slate of new product launches.

Detroit-based GM expects U.S. passenger car and light truck sales to total between 15 million and 15.5 million vehicles, a development "that (would) make 2013 the industry’s best year since before the great recession," vice president of sales operations Kurt McNeil said.

Light-vehicle sales topped 14.4 million units last year, according to industry estimates.

In 2013, GM will introduce a 2.0-liter clean-diesel Chevrolet Cruze, a Chevrolet Impala and a Cadillac ELR plug-in; expand the availability of turbocharged four-cylinder engines on vehicles such as the Buick Encore; and launch new V6 and V8 Gen 5 engines for pickup trucks.

GM ended 2012 with an inventory of 221,649 full-size pickup trucks. "We are where we want to be for the changeover (to new trucks). We’re bringing our Gen 5 engines and our stamping facilities online right now, (so) the changeover is going extremely well," General Motors North America president Mark Reuss said.

"Getting away from the boom-and-bust cycle (in the economy and the auto industry) is really important," GM chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem said. "Steady growth is what we’re hoping for, and that’s what is likely to happen."

"Access to money is sound, as are the underlying fundamentals of the economy, like steadily increasing employment," Reuss said.

Meanwhile, Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford estimates that 2013 sales could reach 16 million vehicles. Chief economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick said that U.S. sales since 2009 "have rebounded by over 4 million units for a total growth over that three-year period of 40 percent," far outperforming the economy in general, which has been growing at some 2 percent. Ford expects the gross domestic product to grow 2 to 2.5 percent in 2013.

Although an increase in tax rates on the wealthiest Americans is significant to the industry, only 2 percent of new vehicle buyers are in that upper income-tax bracket, Hughes-Cromwick said. But the change in payroll taxes, which reverted to the prior rate of 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent, represents a loss of $1,000 for the average household. "We’re looking at it very carefully as it will cramp (consumer) spending in the months ahead," she said.

However, that may not lead people to defer vehicle purchases but rather choose models more appropriately priced for their income. Plus, auto loans are generally available to most consumers, Hughes-Cromwick said. "We really don’t see automotive credit constraints, in contrast to maybe what we’re still seeing in the housing sector."

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