Gas prices are the biggest wild card for auto sales.
The roller coaster ride they took in 2007 made a mess of inventory management and helped create the financial crisis. Prices have stayed below $4 since then, but recently neared the $3 level on a national average.
Wayne Avery watches the prices carefully at the gas station across from his Tommy's Auto Sales in Upper Marlboro, Md.
Thats something that can ruin this country, Avery said.
One of the biggest challenges is fuel prices make up a larger portion of a consumers budget the lower their income. That means used-car buyers start having problems making their payments.
That problem remains hard to solve. But inventory management could prove easier that in 2007.
One issue in 2007 was a surplus of SUVs. Many experts say these vehicles were a fad and high fuel prices hurried their end.
Dealers wound up with lots fuel of these gas-guzzlers as consumers sought more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Changes in tastes and labor agreements create a new environment for building fuel-efficient vehicles today.
It appears for the first time that the auto industry is able to make money on small cars, said George Hoffer, a professor of economics at the University of Richmond.
Thats because of increased interest in electronics, Hoffer said.
Young consumers show more interest in the latest smart phone than in the latest sports car.
Manufactures can sell vehicles like the new Ford Focus as personal electronics that come with a car.
The auto industry has a long history of creating a high profit vehicles out of existing platforms, Hoffer said. Examples range from stuffing huge into midsize cars and turning them into muscle cars to putting luxury SUVs on pick-up chassises.
Avery said dealers can change with the times, as well. He should now after a half century in the business.
In this industry, we are very resourceful, Avery said.