TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Despite the global economic slowdown, “automotive is one of the best-performing sectors” with nearly 5% growth expected in 2012, Ford Chief Economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick says in a Management Briefing Seminars address here on Tuesday.

Moreover, the U.S. will turn in the third consecutive year of double-digit sales gains following the 2008-2009 recession to more than 14 million vehicles this year, she points out, and “the long-term outlook is good.”

From 2003 to 2007, global sales leapt from 56 million units to 72 million, but sank to 68 million in 2008 and 65 million in 2009. Deliveries rebounded to 74 million in 2010 and 77 million last year and are on course toward 80 million in 2012, Hughes-Cromwick says.

There are several positive trends in the U.S. market, she underscores, but also at least one negative: Housing starts have picked up, consumer confidence is rising and unemployment has declined. Still, purchasing managers warn of a slowdown in orders.

Although the national unemployment rate remains stubbornly above 8%, Hughes-Cromwick says 2012 U.S. labor-market trends bode well for the economy over the next three years.

Employment in the professional/business category leads the list with 593,000 jobs for a 3.4% gain, with education/health second at 421,000 jobs, up 2.5%.

The trade/transportation/utility group, which includes the automotive sector, is charted for 282,000 jobs, a 1.1% increase.

U.S. scrappage rates also point toward strengthening automotive sales, she says. The average U.S. vehicle currently is 11.1 years old, while some 6.5% of the nation’s 240 million vehicles head to the shredder each year.