DETROIT, July 19 The U.S. auto industry is poised for a robust second half of the year with sales nearing levels recorded before the 2008-2009 economic downturn, influential industry analysts J.D. Power & Associates and LMC Automotive said on Friday.
"The overall trend in vehicle demand has outshined economic growth, and looking forward, the improving economic fundamentals should hold demand at the current level, if not accelerate it over the next several months," said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive.
"With a strong tailwind, it is not unreasonable to think about a 16 million-unit level of demand in 2013," said Schuster.
If 2013 auto sales indeed rise to 16 million, it would represent the highest annual sales rate since 2007's figure of 16.1 million vehicles.
While Schuster says this year's sales may hit 16 million, LMC and JD Power on Friday raised their forecast for 2013 to 15.6 million from the previous 15.4 million.
A large fleet of older vehicles that need to be replaced, stronger pickup truck sales linked to a growing construction industry and improving consumer confidence have helped spur auto sales so far this year.
U.S. new vehicle sales in 2012 were 14.5 million. At the bottom of the downturn, sales fell to 10.4 million vehicles in 2009.
For July, they forecast an 11 percent rise to 1.34 million new vehicle sales from a year ago, to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 15.9 million vehicles.
New vehicle production in North America rose 4 percent in the first half of the year. Ford Motor Co production rose the most, up 14 percent, due in part to demand for the Fusion sedan.
Chrysler Group LLC production rose 1 percent and General Motors Co output was down 4 percent, "due to weaker large SUV volume ahead of the upcoming redesign and competitive pressure in the midsize car segment," JD Power and LMC said.
Chrysler is majority-owned by Fiat SpA.