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The auto sales business appears to be on cruise control.
As dealers nationwide make their way to San Francisco for the annual National Automobile Dealers Association convention, they are not leaving much behind at their respective businesses.
"I have little or no inventory," Rod Paddor, a 30-year industry veteran, told CNBC this week. Paddor, who owns a Subaru dealership in Skokie, Ill., added that "as soon as we get new models, they're gone. People are ready to buy right now."
Many outsiders point to low gas prices as the reason for strong auto sales last year, but those in the industry know that was not the only driving factor. Nationwide, auto dealers have benefited from more consumer demand as the U.S. economy continues to improve. NADA reports that in November 2014 there were 1.3 million light-vehicle sales, up 4.5 percent from the prior November. And year-to-date light-vehicle sales in November 2014 amounted to 14.9 million, up 5.3 percent from a year ago.
Some of this cheer may be brought to town by the thousands of auto dealers who are attending the NADA convention at the Moscone Center, which started Thursday and runs through Sunday.
"The automotive retail industry is back, and it is roaring," said Jonathan Collegio, NADA's vice president of public affairs. "Literally everything is sold out at this year's convention -- the exhibition space, the hotels, everything. It's going to be a great show."
Auto dealers are spending big on this year's convention, and they likely have more income to do so thanks to robust sales. That's good news for San Francisco's economy, which relies on tourism and conventions for a large chunk of revenue.
Floor space at the Moscone Center is at a premium, with NADA saying about 30 exhibitors are on a waitlist hoping to earn a spot due to a last-minute cancellation.
Low fuel prices and the expected boom in auto sales to follow are sure to be hot topics at this year's convention. Another avenue of interest is likely to be which vehicles are commanding the most attention. Aside from the usual suspects - Toyota, Honda, Ford and Chevy - other models are gaining traction with consumers.
Zeke Vunida, a service adviser at Putnam Subaru of San Francisco, said the fact that Subaru is selling more vehicles is not necessarily tied to lower gas prices.
"Subaru is ... becoming a more popular brand," Vunida said. "The brand itself is expanding."
He may be correct about the gas price link, as hybrid and electric vehicle sales are up as well even though they are less reliant on low fuel costs.
Another indicator appears to be way out in the Pacific Ocean.
Bill Van Den Hurk, the owner of the Aloha Auto Group of Hawaii since 1997, is in San Francisco for the NADA conference. He operates seven Kia and two Harley Davidson dealerships that are located throughout the islands.
Gas prices there are much higher than other parts of the U.S., yet Van Den Hurk said new vehicle sales at his dealerships rose 37 percent in 2014 over 2013.
"We're in Hawaii -- we're still at $3.29 per gallon, up to $4 something for diesel," he said, adding that "the cars we sell are fuel thrifty."
In June of this year, Van Den Hurk said he will begin selling the electric version of the Kia Soul.
"We're excited about this. Hawaii is a very green state," he said.
Van Den Hurk did not travel to the Moscone Center alone. Alongside him is his wife, Niki, with whom he started his business 18 years ago. And not only is Niki Van Den Hurk nominated for Hawaii's 2015 Auto Dealer of the Year award, she also has the business in her blood.
Her great grandfather, Peter E. Martin, was one of Henry Ford's first employees.
Martin was hired in 1903 as the Ford Motor Co.'s fifth employee, a leading early production executive . He worked his way up until he was placed in charge of the Assembly Department at the famous Piquette Plant in Detroit, where he oversaw the production of dream cars for the masses like the Model T.
Which vehicles do consumers want to drive?
The best way to predict this is to look at sales in the year prior. According to the Kelly Blue Book, the top 10 vehicles sold in America in 2014 were:
Source: San Francisco Examiner