A new Dodge Ram truck outside the Dayton Convention Center, where the Dayton Auto Show opens Thursday. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
Photo: Thomas Gnau/Staff
Photo: Thomas Gnau/Staff

Auto sales remain strong as Dayton Auto Show opens

The Dayton Auto Show opens at noon today at the Dayton Convention Center amid an American auto industry that remains quite healthy, although past its recent peak.

U.S. auto companies are on track to sell about 16.7 million vehicles this year, a strong number, but down from 17.1 million sold in 2017, which in turn was down from about 17.5 million in 2016, said Michelle Krebs, an executive analyst for Autotrader.

If auto sales figures reported for January prove durable for the year, auto companies will be “more than profitable,” Krebs said.

“The car companies have got their break-even points down,” she said. “Our view is we’re in a post-peak period, but we’re still enjoying strong sales.”

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John Heitmann, a history professor at the University of Dayton and a nationally recognized historian of the American auto industry, said solid sales should hold as long as gas prices remain relatively low and employment remains high.

“They’re going to continue to do OK,” Heitmann said.

Sales dropped to a low of about 10 million in annual sales in 2010, he noted. There was slow growth, then a market resurgence starting in 2015, the UD professor said.

And drivers are returning to larger SUVs and trucks, he added. The nation’s best-selling vehicle is the Ford F-150 truck, which sold 58,937 units in January 2018.

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“This is going to be a huge year for pickup trucks,” Krebs said. Ford is developing a diesel version of the F-150. And she advised show visitors in Dayton to check out the new Dodge Ram truck. “The Ram has really built a good reputation.”

This fall, GM will have two new trucks — a redesigned Silverado and a new GMC truck.

Strength in trucks, especially bigger diesel-driven trucks, is good news for the Moraine DMAX truck engine plant, the joint General Motors-Isuzu company that has about 750 workers making engines for heavy-duty trucks.

But that strength for new trucks and SUVs may mean trouble for smaller cars, such as the Chevrolet Cruze compact built at GM’s Lordstown, Ohio plant, Krebs said.

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She sees record-leasing going on while the average age of vehicles on the road today has risen to around 10 years, with trucks enduring even longer.

Still, industry-watchers can see potential headwinds.

Interest rates may go up a few times in 2018, Krebs warned. Tax reform may leave a bit more money in paychecks, which could counter the rise of rates somewhat. But higher interest rates can be a deterrent to new sales.

Kelly Danison, director of events for the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association, sees strong interest in the show. Generally, a healthy auto industry means a healthy interest in auto shows, she said.

She said the 2019 Dodge Ram will be at the Dayton Convention Center for the show, and she encouraged visitors to check it out.

She also sees an Chevrolet Equinox and a Lincoln Navigator at the convention center, meaning Lincoln is back to the Dayton event. Show visitors can also register for a chance to win a two-year lease for the Equinox. The final drawing for the winner will be 3 p.m. Sunday.

“It really is the best opportunity” to explore what’s out there for anyone looking to buy in coming months, Danison said.

“If there’s one message for the people who are going to the auto show, because of competition, it’s probably a really good time to buy a car,” Heitmann said.

In all, there will be 27 different manufacturers and more than 200 vehicles represented at the show, including Harley-Davidson on hand “for our two-wheeled friends,” Danison said.

There will also be two “ride and drives” for those who want to test drive select vehicles, she said.

The four-day Dayton Auto Show opens at noon today at the Dayton Convention Center, 22 E. Fifth St.

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