U.S. light vehicle sales will begin a slow but steady recovery in 2009, building to 17.7 million units by 2014 as the vehicle mix changes, according to a new analysis by automotive market forecasting firm CSM Worldwide. During its Global Outlook Briefing for automotive industry executives, CSM predicted domestic sales gradually will return to the historical growth average of 140,000 vehicles per year as the housing downturn bottoms out and the credit crunch eases. On the global front, CSM foresees economic growth in developing countries driving huge new demand for light vehicles over the next 20 years. Auto sales will show strong growth in China, India and Russia, but the market mix will differ dramatically among those countries. Fast economic growth in developing regions will eat away at the U.S. share of the global economy. China will overtake the U.S. as global economic leader sometime in the 2040s, India will surpass Japan to become the world’s third-largest economy during that same decade, and Russia will pass Germany as the European auto sales leader in 2014. “There are great opportunities in developing markets for global OEMs,” said Michael Robinet, CSM vice president, global vehicle forecasts. “But in order to succeed, they must build economies of scale through the use of global platforms and commonality in the build process. Because these emerging markets are very different from each other, regional product flexibility and a broad production base will be necessary to attain sustainable success.” According to the reserchers, the world economy will grow at a 3-percent rate in 2008, with developing countries growing three times as fast. The U.S., European Union and Japan will expand less than 2 percent. Even though China and India lag far behind in terms of per-capita gross domestic product (GDP), they have large and growing wealthy segments. Global light vehicle production will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.6 percent to 87 million units by 2014, with more than two- thirds of the increase coming from developing countries. By that year, 43 percent of General Motors production will be based in developing markets, versus 34 percent for Toyota. U.S. vehicle sales will return to slow but steady growth beginning in 2009, but most of the increase will go to the “Asian 4” (Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai/Kia) as segment volumes continue to shift toward smaller vehicles, primarily at the expense of the mid-size segment. The growth of the small-vehicle segment closely mirrors rising gasoline prices. Smaller unibody crossovers will grow to the detriment of mid-size, full-frame SUVs. CSM Worldwide provides automotive market forecasting services and strategic advisory solutions to the world’s top automotive manufacturers, suppliers and financial organizations. CSM Worldwide covers the global automotive environment from Detroit, Grand Rapids, Sao Paulo, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Budapest, New Delhi, Bangkok, Shanghai and Tokyo.