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AutoNation CEO Jackson projects 17 million-plus new-car sales in 2015

November 7, 2014
U.S. auto sales are a cinch to top 16 million this year, and are projected to top 17 million next year, said the chairman and CEO of AutoNation Inc., the nation’s largest auto retailer.
Mike Jackson said those big, round numbers – especially 17 million-plus in 2015 – would really put the Great Recession in the rearview mirror. Sales in 2009 were 10.4 million, the lowest point for U.S. auto sales per capita since World War II, analysts said.
In a recent conference call to discuss third-quarter earnings, Jackson let on like his 2015 forecast was no big deal, since 17 million would only be a few percentage points above an estimated 16.5 million for 2014.
"To forecast a 3 percent increase for next year is not that far out there, as a bold statement," Jackson said in the Oct. 28 conference call.
"Of course, anything that begins with a 17 has only happened twice before, I recognize that. But I think indeed, the market will break through 17 million," he said.
The current all-time U.S. record is 17.4 million, set in 2000. However, that level of sales was sustained by price discounting and dumping units into daily rental fleets. The U.S. industry is much more profitable today at lower levels of production and sales.
Even 16 million-plus for 2014 is a big deal by historical standards. The last time U.S. auto sales topped 16 million was in 2007, before the latest recession took hold. Sales in 2013 were 15.6 million, an increase of 7.6 percent from 2012.
"I expect this year to end up around 16.5 million," Jackson said. "I mean, think about it. We had a selling rate of 16.8 million in the third quarter. So, we’re going to be in the mid-to-high 16s for the fourth quarter," he said. "So you’re carrying a very good selling rate into next year."