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Conflicting signs for January auto sales

January 22, 2010 | 10:26 am

Someone’s wrong.

Two auto industry research firms are projecting widely divergent sales for January.

TrueCar Inc. of Santa Monica, which analyzes new car pricing, estimates that light-vehicle sales in January will be 728,019 units, down 29% from December but up a solid 11% from this time last year, after adjusting for monthly selling days. January’s forecast translates into an annual sales pace of 11.3 million new-car sales. (Most of the automakers believe the industry will sell about 11.5 million vehicles in 2010.)


“The improvements that we have seen in the industry in the last several months have been encouraging,” said Jesse Toprak, a TrueCar analyst. “But we have to remember that this time last year we were just heading into the downward spiral from which the automotive industry is -- just now -- starting to emerge."

He said luxury sales are starting to grow, which “is significant because luxury vehicle sales are a leading indicator of consumer confidence in the marketplace.”

J.D. Power & Associates of Westlake Village has a more negative outlook.

The auto research and consulting firm estimates that January new-vehicle retail sales will come in at 500,900 units. That's equivalent to an annual selling rate of 7.9 million vehicles, 3.4 million below the TrueCar estimate.

It also would be a big drop from the annual selling pace of 8.9 million units in December, which was one of the stronger sales months in 2009, in part because of robust marketing and incentive programs.

“January is typically a weak selling month, but this month is particularly impacted by December’s strong close and extra selling weekend,” said Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power. “However, the sales pace has been improving as January continues, which is an encouraging sign for the recovering industry.”

In a separate sign that the auto business is rebounding, CarMax Inc., the nation's largest retailer of used vehicles, said it is looking to hire 600 workers at its showrooms across the country. Most of the jobs are in sales, but the company also is looking to hire in its service operations, business offices and purchasing department. CarMax said previous auto industry experience is not required for most of the jobs, which are full- or part-time positions.

For more information about CarMax's jobs, click here.

-- Jerry Hirsch

Photo: Cars for sale at Cerritos Subaru. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times