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Stronger US auto market anticipated

Keywords: Tags  automotive sales, auto production, Polk, Anthony Pratt, Tom Libby, pickup trucks, crossovers, hybrid vehicles General Motors

CHICAGO — New light vehicle registrations in the United States should rise 6.6 percent this year to 15.3 million vehicles, according to a global automotive market intelligence firm.

Analysts at Southfield, Mich.-based R. L. Polk & Co. also forecast that North American production volumes will rise 2.4 percent year over year to about 15.9 million vehicles, driven by an improving economy and capacity expansion.

Automakers will introduce 43 new vehicles this year, up nearly 50 percent from 2012, as well as 60 vehicle redesigns, which Polk said likely will spur showroom traffic and new car sales.

"(We) expect continued recovery in the industry in 2013 and 2014," Anthony Pratt, director of forecasting for the Americas, said. Polk expects annual sales to hit 16 million vehicles by 2015, if not sooner. The U.S. market last achieved annual sales of 16 million vehicles in 2007.

The large-pickup segment, which has declined over the past five years, likely will grow with new launches in 2013 and into the 2014 model year by Detroit-based General Motors Co., Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota Motor Corp. and Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co., Polk said, and a recovering housing sector will pull demand from construction contractors.

The midsize sedan and luxury vehicle segments also bear watching, according to Polk’s lead North American analyst, Tom Libby. And if gas prices keep falling, the small luxury crossover segment will continue to swell.

Sales of compact crossover vehicles have risen more than 50 percent in the past five years. Greater competition in this segment has created pricing pressures, which bodes well for consumer interest.

Polk also believes the industry will see higher sales of compact and subcompact cars, especially as automakers introduce new models in 2013 that aim to meet higher fuel economy standards. Sales also will gain from "increased interest by younger buyers just coming into the market," Libby said.

Although the number of hybrid models available will rise in 2013, Polk expects their market share will rise only "slightly" beyond the current 2.9 percent, largely because prices for hybrids remain high while traditional cars are achieving greater fuel economy.

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