Car Sales Seem Tepid But Check Out Those Vans And Trucks

This year's motor-vehicle sales are off to a significantly better start than is widely believed. So argues Robert L. Marks of som Economics Inc.

According to the Commerce Dept., seasonally adjusted sales of domestically produced autos through April clocked in at an average 6.01 million-unit annual pace, an increase of only 0.7% over their year-earlier rate. Marks notes, however, that unadjusted data show an increase of 2.6% for the four-month period--a difference equivalent to some 115,000 annual car sales. "The government's numbers are misleading," he claims, "because they seasonally adjust sales data, which no longer have the degree of seasonality they had earlier in the postwar period."

More important, says Marks, is the inadequate attention paid to domestic trucks, including minivans and sports utility vehicles as well as traditional vans, pickups, and heavier trucks. Such truck sales, which are not seasonally adjusted, now account for 31.5% of domestic motor-vehicle sales, compared with 27% four years ago. And they are nearly 16.5% ahead of their year-earlier pace.

The upshot is that total domestic vehicle sales now are running some 7.5% over 1991. And while that rise is below traditional recovery magnitudes, Marks notes that "it is generating production and income increases for vehicle producers that will ripple through supplier industries and the economy."

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