It’s a good time to be bullish on Detroit’s Big Three — Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), General Motors Company (NYSE:GM), and Chrysler — as estimates for vehicle sales seem to keep inflating. What’s more, even as these numbers are millions under their pre-recession peak, suppliers and automakers are both managing healthy — even record — profits. Thus far, all the optimism and big talk has been backed up by automakers month after month, but will it continue? Let’s look at what factors could derail vehicle sales and why accurate estimates are extremely important.
Here’s how U.S. vehicle sales came in last year, with projections for this year:
|Automaker||2013 Projection||2012 Final|
These estimates are crucial for companies to accurately prepare operations and inventories for consumer demand. Obviously, if management overestimates sales, then automakers will be left with excess inventory and may be forced to dish out large incentives to move vehicles. On the flip side, if management underestimates sales, they could be left with factories running under capacity, causing overhead to eat into profits. On top of that, companies risk losing sales and market share to competitors if they don’t have inventory to supply the demand. Automakers that can react quickly to demand or can manage estimates more accurately will put themselves in the best position to gain sales and market share. Let’s look at two risks that could cause automakers to fall short of their 2013 estimates.
It’s inaccurate to think that if sales continue to climb upward, it benefits only the players already entrenched in the market. The fact is, once a market becomes more profitable, it attracts more outside competition. If the U.S. market continues to creep toward its all-time high of vehicles sold, additional companies will be vying for their pieces of the pie.
Competition could come from multiple angles. It’s possible that a known automaker, such as Volkswagen, could turn into an even bigger U.S. player and steal a larger share of the markets and profits. It’s also very possible, according to KPMG’s survey of auto executives, that BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) could be exporting a significant number of vehicles sooner rather than later. China and Brazil are expected to export 2 million vehicles within three to five years. Almost a quarter of the automotive executives expect India to be able to export a million vehicles as soon as this year. It’s possible that competition could come from these countries, and perhaps they will find success much as Japanese automakers did decades ago. That said, I don’t see it unfolding that way. I think that, rather than trying to penetrate a mature U.S. market, these companies will focus their attention with other nations inside the BRIC countries or South Africa. If I’m correct in that belief, increased competition may happen, but not soon enough to foil expectations for 2013.