Fingers stay sticky for pickups

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Light vehicle sales remain on a hot streak in the U.S., with pickup trucks leading the way – two trends that are helping bolster what little economic growth is occurring in the country right now (go here for a story on that interesting correlation).

But while pickups these days are in high demand among consumers and commercial users alike, they also remain highly prized among vehicle thieves.

First, though, here’s a sense of just how strong light vehicles sales are in the U.S. right now. Take a look at July’s numbers compiled by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive; they hit their highest levels for the month since 2006, reflecting continuing strength in the market since spring, the two firms said.

For the sixth consecutive month, the retail seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) hit around 13.8 million units, an increase of 600,000 vehicles, compared to July last year, with new-vehicle retail sales in July reaching 1.2 million units, a 5% increase on a selling-day adjusted basis compared to the same month last year.

“The industry continues to demonstrate healthy growth, not just with retail-sales volume, but also with transaction prices," noted John Humphrey, J.D. Power’s senior VP for its global automotive practice. “The combination of high transaction prices and strong retail-sales volume is expected to result in consumers spending more than $36 billion on new vehicles in July. That would be the highest for the month of July since 2005 and an increase of $3 billion from July 2013.”

Total light-vehicle sales in July hit 1.4 million units, also a 5% increase from July 2013. With a sales pace for the remainder of the year projected to average 16.5 million units—similar to the levels in March through July—LMC is boosting its retail light-vehicle sales forecast to 13.5 million units for 2014, up from 13.4 million, with total light-vehicle sales expected to top 16.3 million units, up from 16.2 million.

“The automotive industry recovery in the U.S., which has had two upward revisions in the last two months, remains ahead of that of the U.S. economy, which has been revised down to less than 2% for 2014,” stressed Jeff Schuster, LMC’s senior VP of forecasting.  “Further upward momentum in light-vehicles sales remains a strong possibility if the remainder of the year keeps pace with recent months and the expected improvement level in the overall economy is realized.”

While such “upward momentum” isn’t occurring in terms of light vehicle thefts – indeed, after a slight increase in 2012, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) predicts a reduction in national vehicle thefts of 3.2% when final 2013 statistics are released later this year – the popularity of pickups is keeping such models high on the “shopping list” of automotive thieves.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) noted in its annual Hot Wheels report that pickups ranked third, fourth and sixth on its “top 10” list of most stolen vehicles for 2013:                                                                                               

 1.  Honda Accord                                             (53,995)

 2.  Honda Civic                                                  (45,001)

 3.  Chevrolet Pickup (Full Size)                 (27,809)

 4.  Ford Pickup (Full Size)                            (26,494)

 5.  Toyota Camry                                             (14,420)

 6.  Dodge Pickup (Full Size)                        (11,347)

 7.  Dodge Caravan                                           (10,911)

 8.  Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee         (9,272)

 9.  Toyota Corolla                                              (9,010)

10. Nissan Altima                                                (8,892)

The NICB also compiled a “top 10” list of the most frequently stolen 2013 model year vehicles stolen last year:

1.   Nissan Altima                                              (810)

2.   Ford Fusion                                                  (793)

3.   Ford Pickup Full Size                               (775)

4.   Toyota Corolla                                            (669)

5.   Chevrolet Impala                                       (654)

6.   Hyundai Elantra                                          (541)

7.   Dodge Charger                                           (536)

8.   Chevrolet Malibu                                      (529)

9.   Chevrolet Cruze                                         (499)

10. Ford Focus                                                   (483)

Let’s stress again, though, that vehicle thefts overall are down for 2013 – and down significantly on a historical basis. The peak year for vehicle thefts was 1991 with just over 1.66 million vehicles stolen. But if the FBI’s preliminary 2013 vehicle theft estimate holds, thefts will be under 700,000 units – a number not seen since 1967 and a reduction in vehicle thefts of over 50% since 1991.

“The drop in thefts is good news for all of us,” noted Joe Wehrle, NICB’s president and CEO in a statement. “But it still amounts to a vehicle being stolen every 45 seconds and losses of over $4 billion a year.”

A clear indication that sticky fingers still do a lot of walking where pickup trucks are concerned.

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