Full-year US auto sales now projected at 16m units: sources

11 June 2013 19:56  [Source: ICIS news]

DETROIT (ICIS) -- A few months ago, petrochemical makers began to fret about declining US auto sales. Not anymore.

Auto market sources in Detroit on Tuesday said that 2013 US auto sales are now projected to be about 16m units, more than anyone had expected as recently as a few weeks ago when US auto makers announced that they were upping production to meet growing demand. The most recent estimates had 2013 US auto sales at 15.3m-15.5m units.

"I'm hearing 16 million, maybe 16.1," said one auto supplier.

"I didn't think we'd see 16m this year," said one auto maker source. "Now, everyone's talking like even that might be low."

That is good news for petrochemical makers of acrylonitrile (ACN), acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS), polycarbonate (PC) and nylon, whose products are used to make plastics for automotive interiors, reservoirs and intakes under the hood, as well as windows and headlamp covers. It is modestly good news for producers of styrene-butadiene-rubber (SBR) and butadiene (BD), which make raw materials for tyres but only see about 20% of their products go into new cars.

US sales of cars and light trucks peaked in 2000 when automakers sold more than 17m units. Annual sales stayed above 16m units through 2007 but tanked with the economy. The worst year for auto sales since then was 2009, when they fell below 10m units. Since then, sales have slowly recovered.

There was some confusion earlier in the week when LMC and IHS, two forecasting firms, projected North American sales -- which includes Canada and Mexico -- of 16m units. Some analysts had initially confused that with US sales, and both forecasting firms clarified the numbers. But sources in Detroit say that US sales alone are not far off that mark.

The bigger problem, one automotive source said, is that plants are currently running at 90% of capacity. Even with Chrysler, Ford and GM adding shifts and cutting summer turnarounds, there are concerns that the industry may bump up against capacity constraints.

As for what is driving demand, one automotive source said, "It's anyone's guess -- better economy, housing recovery, pent-up demand. Take your pick."

By: Mark Yost
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