March Auto Sales to Tumble 7%

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Industry analysts at Cox Automotive have forecast that March sales will total 1.55 million light vehicles (cars, SUVs, and pickups). That’s down 7% year over year for the month. The seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of sales for light vehicle sales drops from 17.2 million in March 2018 to 16.8 million.

If the March forecast pans out, first quarter unit sales will have dipped from 17.1 million a year ago to 16.7 million this year, a drop of 2.3%. March is a typically strong month for new car sales as consumers shed their winter clothes and begin to anticipate the warmer weather ahead.

Cox Automotive’s chief economist, Jonathan Smoke, said:

The year has started relatively soft for new-vehicle sales. January was a combination of factors, some of which were related to the broader economy. The government shutdown, decline in consumer confidence, and the polar vortex all detracted from the economy and new-vehicle sales in January. We had somewhat better weather in February, in most of the U.S., an open government and a rebound in confidence, yet new-vehicle sales did not improve. Now we know that consumer confidence again moved down in March. It’s looking like the new-vehicle market is suffering in part from the overdue resumption of the normal, post-peak slowdown that was temporarily disrupted last year by tax reform.

Here’s how Cox sees first-quarter sales for several automakers:

  • General Motors: down 6.5% year over year; unit sales of 668,913; market share of 17%
  • Ford: down 2.6%; 581,574 units; 14.8% share
  • Toyota: down 5.8%; 538,769 units; 13.7% share
  • Fiat Chrysler: down 3.2%; 498,118 units; 12.76% share
  • Honda: down 0.4%; 361,278 units; 9.2% share
  • Nissan: down 14.2%; 357,083 units; 9.1% share
  • Volkswagen: down 5.5%; 139,838 units; 3.6% share
  • BMW: down 9%; 76,796 units; 2% share
  • Daimler: down 12.3%; 76,251 units; 1.9% share

There are a couple of tax-related issues that may have affected new car sales in the first quarter. U.S. taxpayers may have been taken by surprise when federal tax refunds were less than expected this year and fleet sales jumped last year, an effect not expected to be repeated this year.

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