After strong March sales, AutoNation Inc. is raising its 2012 industry sales forecast to the mid-14 million range.
AutoNation today reported March sales of 25,489 new vehicles, up 15 percent on the continued resurgence of domestic-brand manufacturers. For the first quarter, AutoNation’s sales rose 13 percent. The results were strong enough for the nation’s largest dealership group to raise its outlook for the year from the previous estimate of 14 million vehicles. AutoNation now expects 2012 sales to fall somewhere in the range of 14.4 million to 14.7 million vehicles.
“We were strong geographically everywhere,” AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said in an interview on CNBC this morning.
With the average vehicle age at 10.8 years, pent-up demand is driving sales, Jackson said. Ample credit and strong product offerings are helping. “There’s a need to replace these vehicles,” he said.
• Domestic-brand sales at AutoNation stores rose 26 percent to 7,991 vehicles. Ford led that group with a 25 percent jump.
• Import-brand sales rose 10 percent to 13,403 vehicles. Toyota led with a 20 percent gain, and Toyota and Honda inventories continue to improve.
• Luxury-brand sales rose 10 percent to 4,095 vehicles. Mercedes led with an 18 percent improvement.
Higher gasoline prices are actually “accelerating sales, not hurting sales,” Jackson said. Because manufacturers have improved the fuel efficiency of vehicles from trucks down to small cars, consumers are discovering they don’t have to give up size or performance to get a 20 to 30 percent improvement in fuel efficiency, he said.
“The need is bringing them in, and they see the big gain that’s available to them in fuel efficiency since the last time they looked,” Jackson said. “And they say that’s a good reason to buy.”