MANATEE -- As auto dealers locally and nationally happily tallied their 2012 sales, they learned Wednesday that 2013 is expected to be even better.
Auto research analyst Polk released its predictions for 2013, which are expected to top last year's sales by 7 percent at 15 million new vehicles sold. Auto dealers are expected to release December and full-year sales for 2012 today. Analysts predict sales of around 14.5 million, the strongest year since 2007.
The news didn't surprise Manatee County dealers.
"We've been in business 86 years and this was our best year ever," said Cox Chevrolet General Sales Manager John Rudd. "We are expecting more of the same for 2013."
It was a record year for its Mazda dealership across the street on Cortez Road too, Rudd said. That dealership has been open 10 years.
Firkins Nissan in Bradenton has seen higher sales in 2012 -- probably 10 to 15 percent, said Ryan Hood, new car sales manager.
In some cases, the dealership couldn't keep enough of certain models on the lot.
"People were buying smaller cars, ones with better fuel economy, four-cylinder," Hood said.
The new redesigned Pathfinder SUV came out and Hood said the three to four cars shipped each time would sell out right away.
"We couldn't get them fast enough," he said.
Polk expects 43 new models will be introduced this year, up 50 percent from last year. New models usually boost sales, he notes. The company also predicts a rebound in large pickup truck sales.
Hood and Rudd both said
model upgrades in 2012 certainly helped grow sales, along with special manufacturer promotions and rebates.
The loosening of financing by manufacturers also boosted sales, Rudd said.
"We saw people with 500 credit scores who wouldn't have qualified before and now were getting 2 and 3 percent interest rates," he said.
In December, sales of large pickup trucks also picked up, Rudd said. He attributes that to a boost in home construction. "People seem to have more confidence now," he said.
That sentiment was reflected in Polk's prediction that sales will grow for big pickups, which are very profitable for automakers. Demand has been depressed for five years because of the weak economy, but should get a lift in 2013 thanks to redesigned trucks from GM, Toyota and Ford. Polk also said the midsize sedan segment will continue to lead the industry. It's now at 18.5 percent of the market, 2 percentage points larger than any other type of segment. "Recent redesigns of nearly every vehicle in the midsize segment are forcing more competition and continued growth," said Tom Libby, Polk's lead North American analysts. Polk joins many other analysts in predicting 2013 sales at or above 15 million. The consulting firm LMC Automotive, for instance, expects 2013 sales of around 15 million, up from 14.5 million in 2012.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.