The way I see it, there are only two conclusions you can draw from the above: either Americans are unduly -- even wildly -- optimistic about their car-buying plans -- and, by extension, their future prospects -- or their ability to buy a new car depends on something other than their earning power and economic circumstances.
If the latter, perhaps it has something to do with this:
"Subprime Car Loans Return to Favor Among Auto Lenders" (Detroit News)
Consumers without top-tier credit are finding it easier to get new car loans, as banks and other lenders are lowering the scores needed to qualify.
While that means additional sales for automakers, and enables more motorists to get into new cars and trucks, it raises questions as to whether lenders are falling into the same risky lending practices they followed before the recession.
"There's a lot of lenders now that are into the subprime business," said Jody Lee, sales manager at Taylor Chevrolet. "What used to be a good score at a 650 or 700, now 550 is a good score."
During the first quarter of this year, total U.S. car loans totaled $52.5 billion. That's 49 percent higher than the same period in 2009 — the recession's low point — according to Equifax's National Consumer Credit Trends Report.
Also during the first quarter, the average amount financed on new vehicles rose by $589, to $25,995, and for used cars by $411, to $17,050.
Furthermore, buyers are stretching out payments for longer terms: The average length of new- and used-vehicle loans jumped a full month during the first three months of this year, to 64 and 59 months, respectively.
More loans and looser lending restrictions have helped boost new car and truck sales to levels not seen in four years. Estimates call for 14 million to 15 million vehicles to be sold in the U.S. this year, about 30 percent higher than in 2009.
Either way, it's hard not to think that the extraordinary divergence between the two markets -- jobs and autos -- will lead to an unhappy ending.