General Motors CEO Barra Sees Auto Economy Expanding This Year

Jan 09, 2015 01:30 PM EST | Matt Mercuro

General Motors CEO Mary Barra said on Thursday that the company expects light vehicle sales in the U.S. to reach a range of around 16.5 million to 17 million units in 2015. The last time sales reached 17 million was back in 2001.

The auto industry delivered 16.5 million light vehicles last year, according to data released this week.

"The U.S. economy and vehicle sales have been rebounding since 2009, and we believe there is still plenty of room for the auto industry to grow," Barra said to reporters this week. "The strength of the labor market, better job security and the recovery in home prices have consumers feeling pretty good about the future, so we expect people will continue to replace their older cars and trucks. The recent sharp drop in fuel prices and rising incomes should only add to their confidence.

"The most important change we see coming is the return of younger and first-time buyers to the market," Barra added.

Barra said she expects GM Europe to return to profitability in 2016, which is a bold claim since U.S. rival Ford Motors cut its outlook last fall over steeper losses in Russia.

"We remain committed to the mid-term targets that we've set," she said.

Strong real GDP growth should help create new jobs this year, with many analyst predicting 200,000 new jobs per month. That should create better job prospects for recent college graduates.

A National Association of Colleges and Employers study recently said in its Job Outlook 2015 report that employers are looking to hire 8.3 percent more new college graduates from the Class of 2015 for their U.S. operations compared to the amount from the Class of 2014.

"A growing jobs market and new vehicles that exceed expectations for fuel economy and high technology are the best ways to rekindle the love affair America's youth have historically had with cars and trucks," Barra said.

Chevy is in a good position to get more customers this year after reentering the mid-size pickup segment with the Colorado and seven small vehicles or crossovers since 2010.

Vehicles include the Spark, Sonic and Cruze, which all posted their best-ever annual sales last year. The Trax will start arriving in showrooms in December.

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