Coming off a year with a welcome 10 percent increase in sales, the nation’s auto dealers are prepped for an even better 2012, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA).
Its “Top 3 factors why U.S. auto sales will increase in 2012″ suggests that aging autos, available credit and plenty of incentives from dealers and automakers will spur sales even more this year. With the January tally of auto sales due out Wednesday and expected to show a 6-percent-plus increase, according to TheStreet.com, you might want to think about tracking sales for the year as a sort of local bellwether.
Also, with the NADA’s annual convention about to kick off in Las Vegas later this week, you have a timely peg for checking in with dealer executives, industry lobbyists and other stakeholders about the state of auto retailing in your market.
Naturally car sales determine the fortunes of retail dealers, and that’s an important angle – especially when you factor in related businesses like service, detailing, accounting, transport of cars to and from dealers and other support services – in fact it might be instructive to ask a local dealer for an educational look at its accounts payable books, to get an idea of the myriad other firms that revolve around car sales. Not to mention newspaper ad sales, and that’s always a tightrope of a topic for business journalists to cover.
The NADA has plenty of informational material on its website, including a state-by-state look at how car sellers contribute to the local economy; you might want to browse around the site for other pertinent data and background.
One reason for the rosy sales outlook is pent-up demand; according to the Polk research firm, average vehicle age reached a record high in 2011 of 10.8 years. But the annual decline in domestic vehicle population ended, with some 500,000 cars boosting the July 2011 ‘vehicles in operation’ number to 240.5 million. Talk with auto mechanices, parts suppliers (Pep Boys just got snapped up by private equity for some $790 million), oil-change stations, car wash companies and detailers – any entity that helps keep old cars running – about what the aging fleet has meant to them and how they’ll be affected if predictions of sales jumps in 2012 hold true. Again, this is a golden opportunity to start a longitudinal story – a mechanic’s blog, or monthly check-in with any related business about the ebb and flow of customers.
Another angle: Who’s buying what in your region? In addition to anecdotal reports from car salespersons, try your DMV for available registration records. I poked around and the info seems to vary by state, but getting monthly records that reflect make, model, year and ZIP code seems like a reasonable FOIA request in most states. Your readers would devour a monthly feature showing which neighborhoods are buying the silver Lexus vs. the bright green Ford Fiesta vs. the sexy ‘Imported from Detroit’ Chrysler semi-muscle cars. Call the DMV and ask what records are available.