Riding high: Auto sales set for big second half

A customer looks at a Ford vehicle on the showroom floor at a Ford AutoNation car dealership in North Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

After much better than expected sales in the first half of 2015, US automakers are poised to enjoy a very strong second half of the year.

So strong, in fact, that analysts are starting to raise their estimates for full-year sales.

"A couple of months ago we thought sales would start to level off and maybe pull back, but now we've changed our forecast," said Jeff Schuster, Senior Vice President of Forecasting for the consulting firm LMC Automotive.

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Schuster has raised his forecast for total U.S. auto sales this year by 75,000 vehicles to a new target of 17.1 million vehicles.

What's behind the higher forecast? The relatively strong economy, low unemployment rate and still lingering pent-up demand because the average vehicle in the U.S. is over eleven years old.

Schuster doesn't see those factors changing anytime soon. In fact, he expects a sales rate of at least 17 million vehicles for every month the rest of this year. If that happens, 9 of the 12 months this year will have a sales pace above 17 million.

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"This current run of strong sales has some legs to it," said Schuster.

The National Auto Dealers Association agrees. Its new forecast for 2015 auto sales is 17.17 million, an increase of 230,000 vehicles over its previous target.

"Purchases and leases of new cars and light trucks will continue as a stronger overall economy continues to drive demand," said NADA Chief Economist Steven Szakaly.

NADA believes the strong second half of the year will continue in 2016. It's targeting annual sales next year of 17.62 million vehicles.

New car and truck sales combined this year and next year could top 34 million. That would be the strongest two-year period of auto sales since 2000 and 2001 when automakers sold 34.4 million vehicles.

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