Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Twin Tracks Auto Show Has Plenty to Offer for Consumers and Dealers

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Twin Tracks Auto Show Has Plenty to Offer for Consumers and Dealers

Article excerpt

After being trapped at home practically since Thanksgiving, Pittsburghers are looking for almost any excuse to get their minds off the weather.

John Putzier, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Auto Dealers Association, hopes the Pittsburgh International Auto Show will do just that. "It's a good time of the year to get out of the house and out of the cold," he said.

The show has its usual President's Day weekend schedule, opening Friday and running through Monday.

Though everyone is so sick of snow and cold that even talking about them can become annoying, the weather is the not-so-invisible hand driving everything this year.

Joe Phillippi, a former Wall Street analyst who is president of AutoTrends consulting in Hanover, N.J., sees cabin fever as one of many weather-related factors keeping people away from dealerships. And there's another one that could drag on sales even longer.

"The kind of temperatures we've had in the whole month -- January had a rather substantial increase in the utility bill -- so that's going to take money out of people's pockets," said Mr. Phillippi.

The other factor driving car sales is about as unwelcome a topic as the polar vortex -- the economic meltdown.

When the economy tanked in 2007, car sales definitely went with it. But while the rest of the economy has lagged, the automotive industry has been leading the way back, rising from 10.4 million vehicles sold nationwide for the 2009 model year to 15.6 million for 2013. Industry leaders and analysts alike are looking to cross the pre-recession magic number of 16 million sales in the 2014 model year.

Lacey Plache, chief economist for Edmunds.com, said discounts could be more of a factor in 2014 but added, "I think we're still seeing strong enough pent-up demand that they shouldn't have to be deeply discounting."

She cites a high number of vehicle leases -- some 300,000 nationwide -- ending during the year, providing a cushion to new- car sales.

A light truck rebound: One lagging sales niche has been light trucks. As the real estate markets and housing starts around the country have been seesawing, nervous builders have postponed replacing aging trucks, which tend to last a long time anyway.

"The last top-selling segment to lag behind the overall industry recovery ... finally gained some momentum in 2013," Ms. Plache said. Sales were 87 percent of 2007 levels compared to 74 percent in 2012.

And truck buyers who continued the waiting game may get their reward this year.

The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra were both redesigned for the 2014 model year, and Ford is coming out with an all-new F150 for 2015.

Ford's new 2015 F150 comes from a restarted plant with a new aluminum body and ultra high-strength steel frame, Mr. Phillippi said. To hedge against any production problems, he predicted that Ford will overfill dealers with 2014 models to sell. …

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