Americans Flocked to Fuel-Efficient Cars in May; Japan Carmakers Cut Shipments After Quake

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Consumers Plan to Buy More

According to the Consumer Confidence Index, more consumers say they plan to purchase a vehicle in the next second half of 2011. In May, 13.8 percent of consumers surveyed said they plan to buy a vehicle within the next six months, the highest recorded percentage since the Conference Board began collecting data in 1967. The percentage is up from 12.5 percent in April and 6 percent in May 2010.

Ken Goldstein, an economist with the Conference Board said the data was collected using a different methodology starting in 2010, which may be contributing to the record response. But he still says it is "crystal clear" that the consumer appetite for new cars has been pent up during the economic recession and recovery – until now.

"These trends might continue not only through the summer but through the end of this model year," he said. The next year's models are traditionally introduced in September.

"For carmakers, there's a good chance it's not going to pick up from where it is, better chance it won't drop off," he said.

The story may change if job growth continues to falter. U.S. companies hired fewer workers than expected in May, according to payroll processor, ADP, this week. Private employers added 38,000 jobs in May.

"For consumers, we continue to muddle through, especially if job situation looks up. That's the key," he said. "If the job market starts to weaken, none of this is going to hold up as well."

A car is often the largest or second-largest purchase for a household, after a home, said Plache.

"People really have to feel motivated to buy," Plache said. "They have to feel confident that their personal financial situation will remain stable enough for the future."

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