Auto Recovery Underpins U.S. Economy

September car sales return to levels seen prior to the 2008 financial crisis.

The housing market is still on shaky ground. Unemployment remains above 8 percent. The one flank of the U.S. economy that’s marching steadily back is the sector that once seemed the weakest: automotive.

The auto industry in September reached an important milestone that few other sectors can claim. Carmakers sold cars and light trucks at an annualized rate of 14.9 million, taking into account seasonal adjustments, according to researcher Autodata Corp. That’s the best pace since March 2008, before the failure of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

‘Bright Spot’

The U.S. averaged a 14.5 million annualized sales rate in the third quarter, the fastest since the 15.3 million pace set in 2008’s first quarter, according to Autodata.

Lowest Rates

Demand for new cars and trucks plunged in 2008 when gasoline prices surged to $4 a gallon and the credit crisis sapped availability of loans for auto purchases. Banks, now bolstered by loose monetary policy, are charging U.S. consumers the lowest interest rates on new-car loans since the Federal Reserve began surveying them in 1971.

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