AutoNation CEO declares 'epic winter' over, economy thawing

Wed Apr 2, 2014 11:52am EDT
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DETROIT (Reuters) - Mike Jackson, chief executive officer of AutoNation, the largest U.S. auto dealer group, said on Wednesday he was bullish on auto sales and the economy in general now that what he called an "epic winter" is over.

"I'm happy to declare the epic winter of 2014 officially over," said Jackson on CNBC. "Business in the last 10 days of March was simply phenomenal, and that follows 10 weeks of very quiet showroom traffic and very quiet sales.

"I think this is final proof that this epic winter of 2014 really did disrupt the entire economy."

On Tuesday, automakers said March sales rose 5.7 percent from a year earlier, well above expectations of a 2 percent increase. This translates into an annualized selling rate of 16.4 million vehicles.

"This is confirmation that the consumer is coming out of hibernation," Jackson said.

Monthly auto sales are seen as an early indicator of consumer spending, particularly for big-ticket items. Sales of those products are often tied to the confidence consumers have in the economy and of being able to hold onto their jobs.

Jackson said all aspects of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based AutoNation's customer business, including new cars, used cars and automotive service, were down before the last third of March.

He also said he expected U.S. auto sales this year to top 16 million for the first time since pre-recession 2007, when they were 16.1 million.

For the 10 years that ended in 2007, auto sales averaged 16.7 million vehicles, then bottomed out at 10.4 million in 2009 and have been steadily gaining since.   Continued...

Mike Jackson, Chairman and CEO of AutoNation, speaks during a forum for the 2012 International Auto Show in New York, April 3, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton