By Jeff Gilbert

NEW YORK — (WWJ) Four years after GM and Chrysler headed to bankruptcy court in New York, the spirit in that city and the entire auto industry is very different.

In fact, as the press preview days of the New York Auto Show get underway, there are predictions that the strong car sales rate will keep improving.

“Is there room for more optimism? I would answer that with a resounding yes,” said Nariman Behravish, chief economist with the global forecasting and consulting firm IHS.

Behravish and J.D. Power President Finbarr O’Neill proving an upbeat assessment at the Wednesday’s Automotive Forum, held the day before press days of the New York Auto Show.

“I think the bottom line is that we’re very upbeat about the automobile industry,” said O’Neill.

The forecasters see the U.S. and Asia leading the way in the auto recovery, with Africa emerging as a very strong growth market.

Behravish says the growth in the U.S. comes not from the government, but the private sector.

“As far as we’re concerned, the private sector is shrugging off, is ignoring Washington,” he said. “But still, the dysfunctional politics of Washington DC could trip up this recovery.”

But, Behravish sees any impact from the “sequestration” budget cuts being limited to specific industries and specific areas of the country. He says it shouldn’t have any impact on car and truck sales.

The IHS chief economist said the housing industry has rebounded, and most of the employment growth is in energy exploration, particularly oil from shale, and from natural gas exploration.

“Energy independence is on the way to being a reality in the U.S., no thanks to anything that’s going on in Washington,” he said. “It’s all the private sector.”

Statistics from HIS say that the net worth of Americans has almost returned to the levels that were seen before the recession.

The Auto Forum also featuring a keynote speech from Toyota’s new senior vice president of Auto Operations, Bob Carter, who said management changes have moved decision making power from Japan to the regions where Toyota’s vehicles are sold.

“These were not just routing manufacturing shuffles,” he said. “The changes that we announced on March 6th signify a huge turning point for our company.”

Toyota will unveil a new Highlander SUV at the New York Show, one of sixty new model introductions.

General Motors may have the most new vehicles at the show, unveiling a new Cadillac CTS and two new Buicks the day before press previews were to begin. GM also brining a new Chevy Camaro, as Chrysler shows a reborn Jeep Cherokee, an updated Dodge Durango, and an even more powerful version of the SRT Viper.

WWJ AutoBeat Reporter Jeff Gilbert is covering the New York Auto Show. Follow Jeff’s Twitter Feed (@jefferygilbert) for photos, videos and instant updates


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