New-vehicle sales will remain strong but will slip a bit in calendar 1999, two economists said.
'It's not a question of a downturn but of how much moderation we'll see,' said Paul Ballew, chief economist for J.D. Power and Associates.
He forecasts U.S. sales of about 15.1 million cars and light trucks in 1999, down from 1998's 15.6 million. The totals do not include medium-duty vehicles.
Light-truck sales will rise to 49 percent of the market; cars will drop to 51 percent of total vehicle sales, he said.
Tom Webb, NADA's chief economist, predicted 15.0 million light-vehicle sales.
The strong American economy will buoy auto sales again this year. But Webb said the U.S. economic growth rate will slip to a still healthy 2.5 percent from last year's robust 4 percent.
The economy will generate about 2 million jobs, another strong number. But last year the economy produced 6.2 million jobs.
Webb said average dealership pretax income rose to $390,000 in 1998, up 27 percent from 1997. The increase was produced mainly by falling costs, such as interest expenses, not significantly higher income.
He said higher dealership profits will be harder to come by in 1999, mainly because dealers already have squeezed much of the fat out of their operations.
He expects an increase of about 5 percent in average pretax dealership income this year.