AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said stronger auto sales at his company is evidence of a wider U.S. economic recovery, but he is sticking to his forecast of fewer vehicles sold this year than the industry expects.
"I'm not raising my forecast" of 14 million vehicles sold this year "because there’s a lot of pent-up demand for Japanese products" that weren't being produced in the wake of last year's earthquake and tsunami, he told CNBC Friday.
"It will take a few months for that pent-up demand to all be taken care of, and then I expect a lower selling rate than the 15,100,000" annual rate the auto industry announced Thursday.
Jackson said AutoNation's17 percent increase in new vehicle sales in February, reported Friday, was stronger than he thought it would be, but also evidence the auto industry recovery "is sustainable, it’s real and the bright spot of the U.S. economy."
More remarkable, he said, is that it happened as gas prices were again rising. He pointed out the auto industry has changed since the summer of 2008 when the average gas price rose to $4.11 a gallon.
"Back then, on our showroom floors, if you wanted a car that got 40 miles per gallon we had three to offer you. Today we have over 40," he said.
Jackson added, that the "big story is whatever size vehicle you want, there’s technology that gives you fuel efficiency. That was not true in the past. You had to downsize to get fuel efficiency. Today you do not."