SEBRING - Jerry Sager headed south on U.S. 27 Monday, test driving a Chevrolet Sonic and noted the acceleration of its 1.4-liter engine.
Alan Jay Chevrolet salesman Joe Gagnon said the vehicle was not equipped with a turbo, but that it got good gas milage.
That's what Sager, who winters in Sebring, wants in his second vehicle: a good-milage car for local trips.
"At the first of the year I start looking at cars," he said. "I don't know what it is; it's just nature."
Many more people were looking at cars and buying them in 2013, and analysts predict another growth year in 2014 for auto sales.
Automakers reported the best new car sales in six years in 2013. Highlands County dealerships also reported another year of sales increases.
For the entire year, U.S. care sale rose 7.6 percent to 15.6 million, according to Edmunds.com.
Alan Jay Automotive Network Director of Marketing and Public Relations Don Ellwell said the Alan Jay numbers mirror the national numbers.
"2013 was by for our best year out of the last six, since 2007," he said."It was probably our strongest growth year since the recession started."
Sales are not back to the 2006 levels, but they are "closer than they have ever been and all signs are very optimistic for 2014," Ellwell said.
Currently, the most popular vehicles include the Ford Fusion, Nissan Ultima, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota RAV4 and the Jeep Cherokee.
Stanley Wells, owner of Wells Motor Co. in Avon Park, called 2013 an "excellent" year for sales.
Why were sales up?
"I guess people are a little more positive although you don't always hear it said that way in the press in all areas," he said.
Wells also believes there was pent-up demand for cars.
"People have held onto their cars longer than they typically do and the life of the vehicles on the road is older than it has ever been," he said. "Sooner or later they have got to trade cars."
Wells said his dealership does well with minivans and trucks and the brand new 2014 Jeep Cherokee is doing very well.
Automakers no longer wait until October to release all the new models, he noted.
"As soon as they can get it ready and ready to come to market then it comes to market," Wells said. "All through the year we are always getting something new."
Bill Jarrett Ford General Manager Doug Gentry said he hasn't yet added up the number for 2013, but believes the dealership had a small increase in sales.
"We did better, but we just didn't increase the percentages that it has nationwide," he said.
Gentry believes Highlands County was a little late going into the recession and now is a little late coming out of it.
The Ford F-150 pickup and Ford Fusion are the most popular models at the Avon Park dealership, he said.
"At the end of the year there seemed to be an uptick on the commercial business, which is hopefully an indicator that our county is starting to thrive a little bit better than it has been," Gentry said.
The Associated Press reports that 2013 was the fourth year in a row sales have increased by more than 1 million.
The Ford F-Series pickup was the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for the 32nd year. The Toyota Camry was the best-selling car.
Analysts expect sales to grow in 2014, but at a slower pace. It could be a good year for bargains as automakers offer better deals to increase their share of the market, AP reports.