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Auto industry in for uncertain 2019

Novi, Mich. — Projecting the future is never easy. And with uncertainty on a number of fronts, it's anyone's guess what lies ahead for the automotive industry.

Trade volatility between the U.S. and China, a new North American trade pact (pending approval) and new tariffs all bring a higher than usual level of uncertainty to the global landscape. And even though 2018 saw U.S. light vehicle sales rally for the fourth-biggest year on record, most are forecasting a dip for 2019.

Add it all up, like the experts at the Plastics and Rubber in Automotive conference did, and the result is clear: It's hard to tell exactly what 2019 has in store.

Chris Kuehl, managing director of Armada Corporate Intelligence, has a more optimistic outlook, largely driven by the fact that the U.S. economy is the largest in the world by far, making it the envy of international companies.

"We are a consumer-driven economy, and we always have been," Kuehl said in his Jan. 15 presentation at the event in Novi, just outside of Detroit. "It's one of the things that really colors what we do globally, and it's one of the reasons we have trade deficits. We like to buy things, and we're very, very interested in buying things cheap and readily. It's one of the reasons countries like China and everybody else want to be in our market; it gives us a certain leverage."

How much leverage? Kuehl said that each state of the U.S. corresponds to another country. California has the same GDP as France. Canada's GDP fits into Texas, Kansas matches with the Czech Republic, Michigan was paired with Poland and Minnesota with Norway, to name a few.

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