Forecast: U.S. August sales will drop 14.4%

DETROIT -- Gasoline prices have fallen from June's record high of $4.11 an unleaded regular gallon, but U.S. consumers are still staying away from dealerships, sales forecasters say.

When August light-vehicle sales are reported Wednesday, Sept. 3, the year-over-year sales decline will be 14.4 percent, predicts Edmunds.com, an industry research firm. That compares with a 13.2 percent decline from unit sales in July 2007 and a 10.5 percent decline for the first seven months of 2008.

Continuing this year's trend, August's largest declines will be concentrated among Detroit 3 brands, said Jesse Toprak, Edmunds.com executive director of industry analysis. He forecast a 34 percent drop at Chrysler and 27.5 percent at General Motors this month.

"GM's employee-discount promotion enabled it to lessen the impact," he said. "It would have been more than 35 percent without the incentives in the last part of August."

Chrysler's big fall will reflect finance arm Chrysler Financial's abrupt exit from customer leasing Aug.1, analysts said.

"Only 15 percent of Chrysler's sales volume was leasing, so its volume impact may not be as great, but August results will be very important for it," said Chris Hopson, senior market analyst for Global Insight. "This could be very telling on its results for the rest of the year."

Global Insight predicts August U.S. sales will drop 19 percent to 1.2 million units, with GM and Chrysler the biggest losers and Honda and Nissan the only gainers among the top players.

"We will see a stronger market in the second half than in the first, but only because of increased manufacturer incentives," Hopson said. "Even so, we see sales bottoming out in either the fourth quarter or first quarter of 2009 and no real pickup until the second half of 2009."

You can reach Jesse Snyder at jsnyder@crain.com

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