Auto industry lifted by cheaper prices at the pump

HOUSTON, TEXAS — Steve Clemmens just bought a 2015 ford escape from this North Hills, California dealership — a decision influenced by falling gas prices.

“Gas prices are great,” Clemmens told me. “We got to take advantage of that as long as we can.”

Consumers like Clemmens gave the escape its best November ever, with sales up 22 percent. Ford’s navigator was up 88 percent.

The surge in demand includes General Motors’ Cadillac Escalade. We visited a GM plant in Arlington, Texas where deliveries to dealerships are up 75 percent over last year.

I talked with Paul Graham, the manager of the plant which makes three GM models. Graham told me it’s hard to predict if the drop in oil prices will make it busier for him but that it can’t hurt.

The plant’s target is to make more than 1,000 vehicles a day.

“Right now, we’re on three schedules, we work 24 hours a day so we go ahead and had Saturday production to meet demand,” Graham said. “We are on an overtime schedule now to meet demand.”

The overtime schedule means employees like Yolanda Twine can pick up an extra shift every other Saturday. Each work day generates roughly $1 million in pay for employees.

I asked Twine how much the overtime will help her in spending a few more bucks.

“I’m too sensible for that,” she told me. “I’m going to put my couple of extra bucks in my pocket and just keep pushing right along.”

A CBS news poll out Tuesday shows what Americans would do with extra cash from lower gas prices: 69 percent said they’ll pay bills and expenses; 52 percent are like Twine and will put it into savings; and only 26 percent will spend more on holiday gifts.

The economy won’t get the full benefit of lower gas prices until people start spending more of that money.

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