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U.S. auto sales expected to fall for second straight month
U.S. new-vehicle sales are projected to decline for a second consecutive month, even as incentive spending reaches a record high.
The forecasts reinforce the notion that industry sales have leveled off after six consecutive years of gains coming out of the recession. But analysts say the market is not on the brink of a downturn, either.
“Auto sales are tracking just about even with last year’s record-breaking pace, so there’s good reason to believe that they’ve hit a high plateau,” Jeremy Acevedo, a senior analyst with Edmunds.com, said in a statement. “At the very least, automakers can feel good that sales are consistently hovering at or around last year’s record levels.”
Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book and TrueCar estimate September sales will fall about 2 percent. LMC Automotive said it expects a decline of just 0.8 percent.
The forecasts call for a seasonally adjusted, annualized selling rate of 17.4 million to 17.7 million. That would be higher than last month’s rate of 16.97 million but below the year-ago rate of 18.04 million.
All of the forecasts show that September is expected to be the first month since February in which automakers sold fewer than 1.5 million vehicles.
“The U.S. automotive market continues to show signs of little growth, yet in our opinion the numbers do not reflect significant weakness or risk,” Jeff Schuster, LMC’s senior vice president of forecasting, said in a statement. “The expectation remains for steady volume levels at the topline, despite a pullback in the retail market and increased monthly performance volatility.”
J.D. Power, which provides data used in the LMC forecast, said incentive spending in the first 14 days of September was a record $3,923 per vehicle, topping the previous record of $3,753 from December 2008.
TrueCar data shows incentives rising 7.8 percent from a year ago and 0.5 percent from August. Incentive spending is up 69 percent from a year ago at Subaru, 44 percent at BMW, 23 percent at Volkswagen Group of America and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, 12 percent at Nissan North America and 11 percent at Ford Motor Co., TrueCar said.
At the same time, transaction prices also are climbing. The average retail transaction price this month is $30,665, a September record, J.D. Power said.
Assuming a 2 percent sales decline in September, total sales for the year still would be 0.2 percent higher than in the first nine months of 2015. Automakers sold a record 17.47 million vehicles in all of last year, which ended with the strongest fourth quarter ever.
“Most year-over-year figures likely will be negative due to an extraordinarily strong September 2015,” KBB analyst Tim Fleming said in a statement. “It is too close to call right now, but at this point in the year, there is a good chance the 2016 totals will fall just short of the 2015 record, marking that the sales peak has passed. Still, the major economic indicators point to sustained high new-vehicle sales levels for the foreseeable future.”
KBB, Edmunds and TrueCar each project that sales will fall at least 8 percent for Ford, with FCA, General Motors, Nissan and VW posting more modest declines. The forecasts show a small gain for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. and mixed results for Hyundai-Kia and American Honda.
Sales are expected to decline less for luxury vehicles than for mass-market brands, TrueCar said.