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Auto sales best in 6 years, but experts see demand ebbing

DETROIT--Automakers are going to have to work a little harder for your business in 2014.

After four years of strong sales increases — and limited discounts — as the economy improved, U.S. demand for new cars and trucks is expected to slow this year. That could mean better deals for buyers as car companies fight to increase their share of the market.

U.S. sales rose 8 percent to 15.6 million in 2013, thanks largely to a surge in pickup truck sales from the home construction and energy industries. For the 32nd year in a row, the Ford F-Series pickup was the country's best-selling vehicle, with 763,402 sold. The Toyota Camry was the best-selling car with 404,484 sold.

But the industry got a taste of what's to come when December sales slowed to a crawl. General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen all saw sales declines as competitors offered better deals, according to TrueCar.com, which tracks car prices. Cold weather and strong sales tied to Black Friday in November also pinched December sales, automakers said. Overall industry sales were flat compared with last December.

A slowdown is inevitable, analysts say. Many people who held on to their cars through the recession have now bought new ones. Those who haven't may not be in any rush, because cars are lasting longer than ever before. And unless there's a strong uptick in employment, families aren't likely to buy an extra car.

Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, expects U.S. sales to increase by around 700,000 to 16.3 million in 2014. That compares to increases of more than 1 million each year since 2009, when U.S. sales bottomed out at 10.4 million. U.S. sales peaked at 17.3 million in 2000.

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