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ORLANDO, Fla. — Increased credit availability and an upswing in consumer confidence stemming from higher employment levels will likely help push full-year 2010 light-vehicle sales to almost 12 million units, said Paul Taylor, the National Automobile Dealers Association's chief economist, during a speech at the association's annual conference and expo this past weekend in Orlando, Fla.

Taylor was among the vast array of speakers and presenters during the event, which featured a lineup that included keynote presentations from 2009 NADA chairman John McEleney; 2010 NADA chairman Ed Tonkin; Volkswagen Group of America president and chief executive officer Stefan Jacoby; AutoNation chairman and CEO Mike Jackson; energy activist T. Boone Pickens; and adventurer Alison Levine

More specifically, in Taylor's address — which offered a 2010 new-car sales forecast and economic outlook — he noted that there will likely be 11.9 million light vehicles sold this year.

In fact, Taylor pointed to a few segments that have shown strong improvements already.

For example, the crossover utility vehicle segment — which was the only segment to see an improvement last year — showed a 14-percent increase in January sales compared to the year-ago period. Midsize car sales jumped 21 percent year-over-year, and small car sales improved, as well.

Presenting with Taylor and providing a looking at the used side of the market was Jonathan Banks, senior director of editorial and data services NADA Used Car Guide.

Banks noted that there were double-digit year-over-year increases in the prices of every used segment in January. In fact, most segments' values are either on the same level or higher than they were before the recession.

Furthermore, Banks projects a "strong" market this coming year on the used side.

"Used-vehicle supply, even with the expected million-plus increase in trade-ins, will remain relatively low," Banks explained.

"Economic fundamentals point to improved demand, and more constraint on new-car production should keep those transaction prices in check," he continued. "Seasonality effects are expected, but will be muted since used-vehicle prices are positioned relatively high compared to prices during the past five years."

What could be the "wild card," however, are gas prices, which appear likely to eclipse the $3-per-gallon range.

In light of this possible development, Banks said NADA will keep a close eye on fuel-price trends and amend forecasts, as needed.

Banks also offered some commentary regarding Toyota and the impact of its recent recall issues on its values. He suggested that Toyota's values will likely show above-average declines and then stabilize at a lower premium than comparable substitutes.

"In the short term, there will be a potential lift in competitive prices as dealers migrate towards other options," Banks stated. "This has already been witnessed in the new-car side for both retail and fleet sales."

McEleney Addresses NADA Conference

Continuing on, in his speech to conference attendees, McEleney offered a look-back at 2009 and the challenges that NADA and its dealers set out to tackle.

In the midst of a topsy-turvy year that saw unprecedented challenges, McEleney said NADA took "immediate action to support dealer interests."

"Our biggest challenge was convincing the President's Task Force that dealers are not an incremental cost to manufacturers," he noted. "The fact is the distribution system that exists for automakers today is extremely efficient. All costs of the retail side of the business are paid for by dealers."

McEleney went on to say that toughest part of his term as NADA chairman was personally hearing from dealers who had been stripped of their Chrysler franchises or placed in the wind-down process by General Motors.

"The damage inflicted on these dealers, their families and their employees is unimaginable," he suggested. "They were essentially denied an opportunity to make a living in this industry. Third and fourth generation dealerships were shuttered. A lifetime creation of capital was wiped out by the stroke of a pen."

However, dealers throughout the U.S. rallied to push Congress for support. Eventually, they gained support in the form of legislation that gave a "second chance" to rejected GM and Chrysler dealers.

"NADA harnessed the influence and power of 17,000 new-car dealers and successfully leveraged that power in Congress to the benefit of dealers throughout the country," McEleney stated. "We hope the manufacturers have learned something from this crisis.

"Three lessons come to mind: listen to your dealers, respect your dealers, and help your dealers succeed," he continued. "If it's positive results you seek, then embrace a positive approach."

McEleney pointed to CARS as an illustration of cooperation from dealers, OEMs and government that proved fruitful for the industry.

In fact, Taylor said during his speech that it was a bright spot for the industry and created a boost in showroom traffic for dealers, as well as giving many consumers the opportunity to buy a new vehicle for the first time, among other benefits.

"If it weren't for NADA, there would not have been a Cash for Clunkers program, period," he said. "There would not have been the initial $1 billion funding and there would not have been the additional $2 billion funding. This program was NADA working at its best."   

McEleney also addressed new-car dealers' exclusion from oversight of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Act, a bill proposed by the House of Representatives. Had dealers been included in this oversight (which originally included dealers), NADA argued it would have hurt them and customers.

Dealers were exempted in December.

"It needed to change, and we got it changed," McEleney shared. "And we're fighting in the Senate for the same thing."

Moving on, McEleney also addressed Toyota and how it came under fire in the last few weeks of his tenure. While saying it is premature to project the impact on Toyota's market share, McEleney emphasized that dealers have made tireless efforts to fix the affected vehicles as fast as they can.

"This underscores the importance of having a strong dealer network in place to handle just such situations," he stated. "NADA is asking Congress, as it begins to investigate the recall, not to give countenance to any unsubstantiated rhetoric, which has the effect of unjustifiably alarming the public about the Toyota brand."

McEleney, urging lawmakers not to be quick to judge, added: "Ill-advised comments reverberate through the entire buying public, impacting auto dealerships, their employees and our local and national economy."

Finally, in light of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, NADA rolled out a Trucks for Haiti campaign. Roughly three days after its launch two weeks ago, dealers had already donated over 100 trucks.

"Even though the past 12 months have been the most turbulent in the auto industry since the Great Depression, America's dealers found the resources to help those in dire need," McEleney concluded.