May draws a hurray on sales front
Big month leads analysts to raise full-year forecasts
Conrad: Sees 50 percent gain
Early readings of May U.S. auto sales are so strong that some analysts are raising their full-year forecasts by 200,000 units.
Forecasters are predicting a fifth straight month with an annual selling rate above 14 million.
"May sales are wonderful," said Stacey Gillman Wimbish, president of the 18-store Gillman Cos. in Houston.
Last week in Washington, sales executives for Kia, Volkswagen, Lexus and Acura described scrambling to meet high dealer demand.
Sales boss Tom Loveless of Kia Motor America expects to set a 21st consecutive sales record this month, but only because Kia added a third shift at its U.S. plant and streamlined its import process.
"We're coming back a little bit by trying to get boats across the water and cars shipped from Georgia," he said. "We build 50 percent of our volume in the U.S."
Frank Trivieri, the sales boss that Volkswagen Group of America hired from General Motors, said the Beetle and Tiguan are joining the Passat and Jetta as big sellers.
"Our brand is starting to have more than one horse in the stable," he said. "We're seeing a strong market and continued growth for the rest of the year."
Consultants and analysts generally are predicting May sales will finish with seasonally adjusted annual selling rates of 14.2 to 14.5 million.
Last week LMC Automotive, forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates, raised its 2012 full-year sales forecast by 200,000 units, to 14.5 million. Edmunds.com raised its outlook to 14.4 million, even as Chief Economist Lacey Plache cited tepid economic growth, unemployment and housing as "potential roadblocks" the rest of the year.
Dealers say traffic and sales have been steady all month. "Sales have been pretty consistent at all our stores this month," said Marc Cannon, spokesman for AutoNation. "The major Japanese brands have just exploded."
Timothy Morrison, sales and dealer development boss at Lexus, sees growth beyond restored inventory.
"Even though there'll be huge increases because of last year's tsunami-related production issues, there are really some good gems of growth coming for the luxury business, along with the nonluxury," he said.
Acura General Manager Jeff Conrad foresees a 50 percent sales increase in May because of restored post-tsunami inventories and growing consumer confidence.
"There is pent-up demand," he said. "In the last few years -- even for people who had the wherewithal to buy new cars -- it wasn't fashionable to buy a new car."
Christina Rogers contributed to this report
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