US car sales, which helped drive the country’s economic recovery after the financial crisis, appear to have peaked as most global carmakers reported flat or slowing US sales for July.
Motor market analysts said that figures released on Tuesday suggested that the US light-vehicle market for the full year could level off at or near last year’s record 17.5m, after six steady years of growth.
“We believe there is an affordability issue,” said Michelle Krebs, analyst for Autotrader.com: “People who could afford cars have already bought them, wages are not keeping pace with the higher prices of cars and other goods”.
Ford last week became the first major carmaker to predict an end to the long US motor-industry boom, revising downwards its forecast for full-year sales and warning of a tougher second half of the year.
On Tuesday, Ford reported that its light-vehicle sales had fallen 3 per cent in July from the same month a year earlier. Sales at General Motors fell nearly 2 per cent in July, year on year, and Fiat Chrysler in the US rose only 0.3 per cent.
Volkswagen, whose US sales have been hit hard by the emissions scandal, reported July sales down 8 per cent year on year. Toyota said that sales were down 1.4 per cent year on year. Honda was one of the few global carmakers to report a significant rise in US sales, up 4.4 per cent over last July, while Nissan reported US sales up 1 per cent for the period.
“This is what we can expect for the rest of the year. Sales have mostly peaked. It’s too close to call whether it will surpass last year’s record,” Ms Krebs said.
But Thomas King, analyst at JD Power, pointed out that consumer spending on cars was still rising as the “plateau” in retail volumes was occurring at a time of record transaction prices: “If you bring those two things together, sales multiplied by transaction prices, you get consumer spending on new vehicles that is at record levels for the month of July”.
GM remained more optimistic than other carmakers about the prospects for beating last year’s record volume.
The Detroit group estimated that the seasonally adjusted annual selling rate (SAAR) for the total US light-vehicle industry in July was 17.9m, but on a calendar year to date rate, it estimated light-vehicle SAAR at 17.3m.
Mustafa Mohatarem, GM’s chief economist, predicted that the 2015 total could be matched or bettered for 2016: “Low interest rates, full employment, stable fuel prices and increasing wages remain in place and these positive factors continue to point toward a strong second half of the year and another potential record year for the industry,” he said.
GM reported a 5 per cent rise in retail sales for July as it shifted the focus of its business away from low-margin sales to rental car fleets and towards higher retail sales.
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