GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - America's love of trucks and SUVs helped push the auto industry to its best April ever, with most automakers reporting healthy increases.
U.S. consumers bought just over 1.5 million vehicles in April, nudging out the old record set in April of 2005, according to Kelley Blue Book.
This time around, it's consumer demand that is driving sales. In 2005, automakers offered wildly generous discounts and lease deals to keep their factories running. Some sold cars or trucks at a loss.
Now, since the companies cut factory capacity during the Great Recession, they're selling vehicles for strong prices.
"I think it's full-steam ahead," said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book said in a recent interview with the Associated Press.
April sales rose 3.6 percent to an annual rate of 17.4 million. In 2015, the industry set a record with sales of 17.5 million.
"People are looking a lot closer at the money they are spending than maybe they did a few years ago, which is a fantastic thing and will help to keep people in the market for a long time," car dealer Don Daughdrill said.
With money being tight for many, banks and credit unions play a key role in the industry.
"Everybody has a budget. They're looking for a particular payment range, and there are so many options available in financing that we're able to get them within that range," Randy Workman explained.
Price is also a major factor for car salesman Jeremy Kirkland.
"Being a salesman, it's my job to keep you in the most affordable vehicle someone needs. And then on top of that, something that you like. Most people buy what they like," Kirkland said.
The state of the economy is always on the minds of car dealers, in good times and bad.
"We have to be watch it and be mindful of the fact that it can waver with the economy. Right now, things seem to be moving along pretty well but we have to be mindful of that it can change," noted Daughdrill.
Car dealers admit that since the recession, buying habits of the American public have changed. Dealers have responded to that change by getting smarter.
"The consumer has a lot more tools at their disposal now where they can go, like, onto our website and they can do everything from the website. Their credit, they can get pricing. The consumers are smarter about doing things now," Phillip Pogue explained.
And in 2016, smarter is better when it comes to driving home in a new vehicle.
Dealers say one thing that has also helped car sales is the cost of gas. Even though the price is rising, it's still less than it was a year ago; putting more disposable income in the hands of prospective buyers.