If you’ve purchased a vehicle in recent months you’re among thousands of metro Atlantans and millions of other consumers who are driving U.S. auto sales through the sunroof.
Atlanta-based Equifax, the consumer credit reporting service, reports that the total balance of auto loans hit an all-time high of $975 million in December, which was 9.3 percent higher than results in December 2013. Auto loans are also representing a larger share of outstanding non-mortgage consumer debt (33.2 percent).
“The improving economic situation has finally afforded consumers the opportunity to rekindle their love affair with the automobile,” Dennis Carlson, deputy chief economist at Equifax, said in releasing the National Consumer Credit Trends Report.
It doesn’t hurt that gas prices continue to fall, helping consumers with the cost of keeping their wheels on the road. The average price for regular unleaded in metro Atlanta on Tuesday was $2.032, down from $2.449 a month ago and $3.235 a year ago, according to AAA. The national average for regular unleaded was $2.054.
It also doesn’t hurt that auto loan rates are low. A Bankrate.com survey of metro Atlanta lenders found a credit union rate as low as 2.29 percent for a 60-month loan and 3.44 percent at a traditional bank.
At least one automaker, however, Honda Motor Co., is accusing competitors of doing “stupid things” to lure buyers, like marketing 84-month car loans. John Mendel, the sales chief for Honda in the U.S., told Bloomberg the longer loans make it harder for consumers to pay off vehicles as they lose value.
Vehicle sales are expected to hit 16.7 million this year after reaching more than 16.4 million last year.