Car sales in the US are going bananas -- here's why they could go even higher

New Car Sales FREDFREDHappy days!

New car sales in the US are back — and back big time.

After plunging to 10 million annually in 2009, sales of new cars and trucks have been steadily climbing back to pre-recession peaks. In 2014, the figure came in at just under 17 million — the auto industry’s best year since 2006.

The outlook for 2015 is even better, with analysts and industry experts expecting a year in which 17-18 million new cars and trucks are delivered to customers.

The luxury end of the market has been especially strong. Audi, BMW, and Mercedes have all been posting double-digit monthly sales increases. But the Big Three US domestic manufacturers haven’t been left out, as sales of SUVs and pickup trucks have bolstered their bottom lines.

People in the industry are now talking about a “perfect storm” of good stuff that could continue to drive strong sales, possibly even pushing the US yearly sales figure to 20 million.

It’s actually pretty simple: cheaper gas, combined with low interest rates and pent-up demand — the average age of a vehicle on US roads is 11 years, nearly unheard of in the history of American motoring — is getting a lot of people to buy a lot of cars.

The falling unemployment rate is also helping. Get a job, need a car.

Some naysayers are fretting about car loans to people with damaged credit — so-called “subprime” auto loans — but for the moment, defaults are extremely low, folks with money woes in their pasts still need to get around, and the overall numbers are nothing like what we confronted when the mortgage markets imploded and set of the financial crisis.

We just wrapped up our coverage of New York Auto Show, which kicked off last week. In my entire career covering the car business, I’ve never seen it this buoyant or optimistic. Even the disruptors are being welcomed with open arms. Tesla? You’re awesome! Apple Car? Bring it on!

Any of a number of economic shocks could change this, but for now, the comeback from the dark days of 2008-09 isn’t just complete — it’s a fading memory being supplanted by a bright future.

Tesla-rainbowSteve JurvetsonThere is actually a pot of gold at the end of it.

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