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Smarter automakers, confident consumers driving car sales back up (+video)

Despite being near collapse four years ago, the US automotive industry is seeing annual sales that are climbing steadily back up toward pre-recession levels.

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Even though it neared collapse four short years ago, the US automotive industry is creeping back up toward year-end unit sales it enjoyed before the recession hit in 2008.

The combined sales of light trucks and vehicles in 2012 reached 14.5 million units, a 13 percent increase from the previous year. In 2007, one year before the economic crisis, automakers reported selling 16.5 million vehicles, but by 2009, sales plunged to 10.3 million sold.

While the annual growth in sales has been modest at times, unit sales are expected to once again break the 16 million barrier by 2015, says automotive analysis firm R.L. Polk & Co. of Southfield, Mich.

“The industry right-sized itself,” says Lonnie Miller, vice president of marketing and industry analysis at Polk. “Now you’re seeing the car companies operate in an environment where consumers are feeling better about buying, automakers are not putting unnecessary product into production or giving away incentives to drive sales artificially.

“That,” he says, “will ultimately help profitability and drive true competition. The ones really hurting in the recession got very aggressive about fixing what needed to be done.”

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