After roaring through 2016 with big gains, local automobile dealers are revving up for more growth in the next 12 months.

The industry showed its strength last year by producing a record 17.55 million in light-vehicle sales in the U.S. And a number of local auto sellers and experts are confident that the industry will ride the momentum to another year of record sales.

“Connecticut generally mirrors what happens nationwide,” said Jim Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association. “I think the outlook is going to be positive and that we will either meet or beat the 2016 numbers.”

Major growth

Connecticut’s auto industry has staged a major recovery since the recession. Vehicle sales at new-car dealerships sunk below $7 billion in 2008, according to CARA. That total would rise to $11.4 billion by 2015, the most recent year for which statewide data is available.

New car sales accounted for 20 percent of total retail revenue in the state in 2015, according to CARA.

“During the Great Recession, credit availability was very tight, and that had a dramatic effect on sales,” Fleming said. “And people were worried whether they’d have a job, which made them hold off on buying cars. Now we’re seeing good sales because people feel confident they’ll have a job and that if they have a car payment, they can make it.”

Stamford dealerships’ 2016 numbers reflected the statewide and national growth. The Minchin Buick GMC dealership on Jefferson Street sold 1,017 new vehicles last year, meeting its goal of moving 1,000 automobiles. It beat its 2015 total by 14.5 percent, driven by top sellers such as the Acadia, Yukon and Sierra.

“We set a goal, and we were confident we could do it,” said Eric Shearn, Minchin’s general sales manager. “We worked hard, and we got it done.”

Subaru Stamford on Baxter Avenue and Kia of Stamford on Selleck Street respectively sold last year about 1,700 and 600 new vehicles. The two dealerships improved their annual sales totals by about 12 percent.

Optima and Sorrento models ranked as top Kia sellers; Outback and Forrester models led Subaru sales.

“It was our best year at both stores,” said George D’Angelo, owner and general manager of the two dealerships. “We sold more volume at both stores and delivered more service than in any other year.”

About 270 new-car dealerships operate in Connecticut. Those businesses directly employ about 14,000 and indirectly account for the employment of about 14,000 additional positions.

Connecticut lost about 30 percent of its dealerships in the Great Recession, but the sector has since stabilized as demand has grown for acquiring those businesses.

“Almost all our dealerships are family owned,” Fleming said. “Those dealers are not going anywhere.”

Confidence about road ahead

The National Automobile Dealers Association’s chief economist, Steven Szakaly, has predicted the national sales total will surpass 17 million in 2017. Auto sales have increased each of the past seven years.

But predicting the impact of the incoming president poses a more difficult task for industry analysts. Donald Trump has called on American automakers to build their U.S.-market cars in their home country or face a major financial hit. He has suggested border tariffs of 35 percent on vehicles made in Mexico and criticized overseas production plans from the likes of GM.

“He has a trade policy, and we’ll see when he works with Congress how that pans out,” Fleming said. “In Connecticut, it’s very local. If our economy remains strong here and people feel confident, then car sales will continue to go up.”

Stamford dealers said that they focus more on local circumstances. Many of them are aiming to turn in another year of record sales.

“I minimally focus on the national picture because obviously we need to sell cars month in and month out,” Shearn said. “If the nation is up, we have more opportunities to sell more cars based on customer interest, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to. We still have to perform at a high level.”; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott

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