September auto sales expected to decline slightly

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Automakers on Monday are expected to report slightly lower sales of new cars and trucks for last month compared to a strong September 2015.

Industry forecasters predict Americans bought about 1.41 million vehicles in September, a roughly 2 -percent decrease compared to a year ago.

Despite the expected decline, sales for the year are tracking just about even with last year’s record-breaking pace of 17.47 million — a robust level for the industry.

“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,” said Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “Still, the major economic indicators point to sustained high new-vehicle sales levels for the foreseeable future.”

Kelley Blue Book’s full-year forecast for 2016 calls for sales in the range of 17.3 to 17.6 million, which would range from a 1 percent decrease to a possible 1 percent increase from last year.

Its forecast is in line with others, including at 17.5 million and LMC Automotive at 17.4 million.

“There’s still a possibility that the industry can deliver record full-year sales but, at the very least, automakers can feel good that sales are consistently hovering at or around last year’s record levels,” said senior analyst Jeremy Acevedo.

An important aspect to watch heading into the end of the year is how automakers react to flat sales — particularly in the area of incentive spending.

J.D. Power and LMC Automotive report incentive spending from automakers was tracking at a record level of $3,923 per vehicle through mid-September, surpassing the previous high of $3,753 set in December 2008.

“The expectation remains for steady volume levels at the topline, despite a pullback in the retail market and increased monthly performance volatility,” said Jeff Schuster, LMC Automotive senior vice president of forecasting. “However, group and brand performance is beginning to diverge as competitive pressure is at an all-time high.”

Ford Motor Co. could report one of the biggest declines of all major automakers, with volume expected to fall as much as 10 percent. Ford’s car lineup, including Fusion, Focus and Fiesta, will be responsible for most of the drop and could fall 20 percent in September, according to analysts.

Toyota Motor Corp. is expected to be one of the only major automakers to increase September sales, while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and General Motors Co. are expected to experience single-digit declines.

(313) 222-2504

Twitter: @MikeWayland