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Big 3 Automakers Are On A Tear

They are the driving force of the booming U.S. economy. And they are driving new automobiles. American consumers are snapping up cars and light trucks as fast as Detroit can make them.

Figures out Wednesday show the Big Three U.S. automakers all posting strong sales gains.

CBS News Business Correspondent Anthony Mason reports that at a California Ford dealer, where Paul Kreiling ordered a new black Taurus on Wednesday, the red-hot auto market refuses to cool down even in winter.

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"We buy a new car every year or so. We promote the economy," Krieling said.

Every major automaker reported booming sales in February. GM jumped 17 percent over a year ago. Ford reported a record eight percent increase and Chrysler was also up eight percent.

Even the analysts were surprised.

"We know that all of the conditions for buying a vehicle are favorable and that consumers are confident. But even that would not have prepared us for the kind of numbers that they put up this month," said auto analyst Anthony Lobaccaro.

The reasons are simple: cheap gas, low interest rates and steady prices. In fact, on average, a new vehicle now costs a family about 24.5 weeks of its yearly income. Two years ago it took more than 27 weeks of wages.

American's tastes are changing, too.

It's light trucks that are driving up sales. Together, SUVs, pickups and minivans are leaving passenger car sales in the dust.

Light truck sales surpassed car sales for the first time this past November. And analysts believe they'll keep going up.

"Even though we're looking at a very strong year overall, we think car sales might be the worst in 20 years this year," said Lobaccaro.

But, overall, auto sales seem headed for another extraordinary year, leaving even the analysts wondering when they'll run out of gas.

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