Chris Mignano’s 8-cylinder, 8-seater Toyota Land Cruiser costs him nearly 100 bucks at the pump, and will likely cost more as prices peak midsummer. As a result, he should be looking to cutback or downsize.

Instead, he’s “looking for the 2013 as soon as it comes out.”

Mignano is the General Sales Manager of Toyota of Manhattan and, like many Americans, has become used to rising fuel prices.  He sells most cars in the summer too and, as more people are hired and rebuild their credit, he’ll sell new rides to new workers and everyone wins.

“Our original hit we took in car sales was the economy, because people lost their jobs. But there hasn’t been a difference because of a change in gas prices,” said Mignano. “People know prices go up in the summer but they go down in winter. They’re making their car choice throughout the year and people are still buying the car that fits.”

Auto and Retail sales are fitting like a glove into America’s 3-month economic barnburner. Rising oil prices were not the harbinger of death that many had predicted. Retail sales increased 1.1% in February, the biggest gain in five months, according to the Commerce Department, despite a 20 percent increase in fuel costs since January.

The world’s largest economy sold more than $407 billion in goods and services last month, enough money to buy every share of oil giant Exxon Mobil. Sales for December and January were also upwardly revised, eclipsing the 400 billion mark both times. These figures follow on the heels of three consecutive job reports touting increased hiring and fewer jobless claims.

Consumers loosened their belts a notch and spent more in the face of a looming Iranian oil blockade and a European debt crisis. Strong hiring has enabled more people to spend. Americans also expect higher gasoline prices in the summer regardless of the goings on in Tehran.

Sean Crockett, professor of Economics at Baruch in New York, believes the media is creating an unnecessary panic over oil prices.

“It seems that there’s more noise about high prices than there should be,” said Crockett. “I don’t see it causing a death spiral in the national economy.”  There is a host of alternatives if prices skyrocket, according to Crockett, but the more important issue at stake is labor. “The economy could really heat up if we get people back to work and start getting them spending.

Rising gas prices stem from fear of an Israeli-Iranian conflict coming to fruition. If it does, no economist actually knows how high and for how long prices could actually go. But if Iran blocked the Straight of Hormuz tomorrow, a 30-mile stretch of water in which 30 percent of the world’s oil is transported, prices could skyrocket.

But it hasn’t. Labor market conditions have offset the rising cost of oil. So “the effect of higher gas prices crowds out other areas of spending,” said Senior Economist at 4CAST Sean Incremona. “But at this stage of the game it’s too soon for prices to have an impact.”

There has been no Iranian holdout and gas prices have not even reached 2011 levels, said Incremona. More Americans are back on the working grind and they’re spending more and will continue to do so in the face of rising oil prices.

Like Chris Mignano, people will keep hauling around their four kids, wife and niece, waiting for the newest edition car or appliance or ipad to come out, even during they summer’s pricey gas months, especially if more of these potential buyers find work.

In a company meeting at Brown’s Chrysler on Long Island, Sales Manager Rich Dorfman assembled his entire crew one morning to address rising gas prices. He asked his sales team what concerns customers had, what the Chrysler company should do about it.

Everyone just stopped and looked around at each other. No one even had any questions. “We haven’t heard any clamoring about it yet. They’re kind of used to it at this point,” said Dorfman.

“I think everybody is used to seeing these prices.”



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