Oregon auto dealers see signs of a promising market, encouraged by local sales and national trends.
Automakers have boosted production, some forgoing usual summertime shutdowns to meet demand. Sales climbed in June, with the Detroit Three collectively reporting a 14 percent year-over-year increase and Japanese automakers posting double-digit growth as they reopen supply chains interrupted by the 2011 tsunami.
While consumer confidence has dropped for four straight months, buyers continue to stream into car lots, attracted in part by low interest rates.
The industry, experts say, is driving out of the downturn that halted production, detoured buyers and shuttered dealerships. And the upbeat frame of mind extends from Portland to Detroit.
"If you consider where we've been the last few years," Wilsonville auto dealer Parker Johnstone said recently, "we're very optimistic about what the economy holds."
Certainly, the industry has ground to gain. From 2006 through 2009, the passenger car market lost more than one-quarter of its value, falling to its lowest level since 1990.
Economists predict as many as 14.4 million new-car sales this year, the highest level in the U.S. since 2008. Oregon looks to grab 91,500 of those sales, a 24 percent jump from the market's recessionary low point in 2009.
Automakers' monthly sales point to a rebound from that year, when new-vehicle output declined by 5 million over a two-year span.
And they're making more cars, too. Auto production marked gains for six consecutive months before slipping in May. Production rebounded in June, with a gauge that tracks automotive products climbing 1.5 percent.
Manufacturers are boosting their payrolls to meet demand, adding 62,100 more workers between June 2011 and June 2012.
In Oregon, new-vehicle registrations climbed 9 percent during the first five months of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011. New car sales, excluding trucks, increased 13.3 percent during the same stretch. That easily outperformed the U.S. average of 9.6 percent.
"There were some very dark times over the past few years," said Greg Remensperger, executive vice president of the Oregon Automobile Dealers Association. "Business is picking back up again. I think our industry is going to lead the national recovery, as well as the local recovery."
That stands to boost the state's economy. The 240 new-car dealers have a measurable impact on Oregon's retail base, accounting for 12.4 percent of all sales in 2010.
It's also welcome news for the estimated 1,750 used-car dealers in the state, which are struggling to compete with franchised counterparts that grew their used-car businesses during the downturn. As demand for new cars increases, the reasoning goes, less room would remain on dealers' lots for pre-owned autos.
In 2010, new-car dealers sold 11.6 million new vehicles and 18 million used ones. And though the average price of new vehicles fell after 2008, the price of used wheels began to climb, in part, because inventory dropped.
Automakers manufactured fewer vehicles and drivers made do with current rides. The government's Cash for Clunkers program also weeded cars from the market.
The after-effects linger in Oregon today, as dealers see fewer late-model trade-ins and nicer used cars demand higher prices.
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