Is the economy coming back? Here's a sign: According to a Mintel study released in March, new car and light truck sales increased by 11 percent between 2009 and 2010, marking the first increase in car sales since 2000. I had written about the role of experience and word of mouth in getting consumers to purchase cars. The Mintel study also underscores the importance of hands-on experience in getting shoppers to seal the deal. When asked about the influences on the purchase of the last new car model, majority of consumers (63 percent) pick test drive from the list of retailer offers and features. The trend holds true across age, gender and income groups. Consumers across the board are checking on marketing claims and deciding which car suits their needs best through hands on experience, on their own. Word of mouth may bring them to the showroom, but it needs to match what they experience to close the sale.