Smoke noted that consumer sentiment is improving as COVID-19 vaccines roll out. The positive things happening around the same time for the economy have Smoke expecting an “incredible spring” from a vehicle-sales perspective.

“It’s shaping out to be exactly that and probably even stronger than I thought it could be,” Smoke said. Cox is forecasting a significant increase in retail used-vehicle sales for 2021. “Then our problem is supply.”

Used-vehicle shortages in both the retail and wholesale markets “can only mean that if people are wanting to spend and they’re wanting to buy vehicles, that vehicle prices are going to be going up,” he said. That’s been happening on the wholesale side already, he said.

Tom Vosen, general manager of Harbin Automotive in Scottsboro, Ala., is watching that inventory situation closely.

“You have probably the tightest inventory conditions we’ve ever seen in the car business,” Vosen said. “So we have great consumer demand, but very tight inventory — not only on the new-car side, but on the used-car side as well.”

Still, he’s looking forward to spring sales and the twofold infusion of stimulus payments and tax refunds.

“The spring, as far as used cars go, is always one of the better times because of income tax, and this year is probably not going to be any different,” Vosen said.

Jackie Charniga, Melissa Burden and Amy Wilson contributed to this report.