2012 auto industry sales forecast: From bubble to presidential bump

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BMW Mini plant in Oxford, England.

2012 auto industry sales will get worse before they get better, experts claim. (CC BY-ND/bisgovuk/Flickr)

While some experts see a silver lining in increased fourth-quarter automotive sales, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler sees dark clouds. According to Reuters, Stadler predicts a tough year for the automotive industry in 2012. However, he does not believe that this is cause for pessimism.

‘An appetite for mobility’

Consumers in developing economies have displayed “an enormous appetite for mobility,” which translates into automotive sales growth, notes Stadler. For this reason, a tough 2012 should only serve as a speed bump on the superhighway to sales over the next decade.

“This should not be a reason to fall into pessimism,” said Stadler.

Stadler, who has been rumored as the successor to Volkswagen CEO Marin Winterkorn when Winterkorn steps down at the end of 2016, sees great things on the horizon for the Chinese auto market. Eight to 9 percent growth is expected, with growth as substantial as 20 to 30 percent sales growth from the premium vehicle segment. Currently, Audi is the market leader among luxury cars in China, ahead of BMW and Mercedes.

Audi’s quest to become the world’s top premium automaker by 2015 will depend heavily upon the growing Chinese economy, which economists predict will produce a significant number of millionaires before the end of the decade. The automaker also looks to gain ground in the U.S. premium vehicle market, where its 2 million annual car sales tails both BMW and Mercedes. An new U.S. production plant will aid in that plan, although it is unclear where the facility will be located.

2012 auto industry sales forecast in thirds

Edmunds.com sees an early auto sales bubble that should last through the first third of 2012. Consumers who avoided buying a car in the summer of 2011 due to the lack of supply following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami have steadily trickled back since September, and that trend should continue through the first third, experts predict. Edmunds sees at least 100,000 additional sales returning to market in the next few months, creating a mini-bubble.

The May-August period will likely reflect a letdown, as recoverable lost summer 2011 sales dissolve away, leaving the auto industry with a single solid hope for motivating sales growth: release of pent-up demand from buyers who have held back throughout the recession. Should the economic gloom continue unabated – as some economists predict it will – the auto industry will feel the pinch.

By September, the approaching presidential election will no doubt play a role, as consumers await the results and make big purchase decisions based at least in part on the economic policies of the successful candidate. After the election, Edmunds predicts a sales uptick, particularly if more favorable federal income tax rates are renewed. End-of-year sales events should help smooth the way for a strong finish for the U.S. auto industry in 2012.

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