Despite only so-so numbers from Ford and GM, September car sales turned out to be quite strong overall, with the all-important seasonally adjusted annual rate at 14.96 million units - above the consensus forecast (Chrysler and Toyota had especially good months). As you can see from the chart (via Calculated Risk), SAAR peaked out in early 2006 at over 17 million, then plummeted to below 10 million in 2009, and have been accelerating, more or less, over the past year. Buying a car is not the perfect economic indicator because it's not always a discretionary activity (the way that a vacation to Hawaii might be). Sometimes, you have little choice - the average age of a vehicle is approaching a record 11 years. Also keep in mind that year-ago comparisons are suspect because of slower 2011 sales related to the tsunami in Japan. Still, this is not levitation. The numbers do seem to reflect a greater comfort among consumers to purchase big-ticket items (low interest rates don't hurt). From AP:
Uncertainty about the economy is keeping sales from rising even faster. Some Americans are holding back on major purchases until they see how the budget battle shakes out in Washington, whether Europe can fix its economy and who wins the U.S. presidential election, says Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm. But car companies remain optimistic about the rest of this year and the first part of next year. "The positives outweigh the negatives," says Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales for GM. "We see continued slow, gradual growth for the entire industry and for us."