DETROIT -- The sales numbers for March, due next week, are likely to reveal another tumultuous month. New-car sales could be down as much as 40 percent, according to J.D. Power and Associates.
And the monthly sales rate will continue to flirt with lows not seen in 27 years.
Analysts think the financial problems dogging General Motors and Chrysler LLC will continue to drag down new-car sales. But even stronger automakers, such as Toyota Motor Corp., are suffering as consumers stay away from showrooms because of job concerns, lack of credit and economic instability.
Speaking with reporters in Tokyo today about sales in the United States, Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said he expects March to be another tough month.
Annualized sales in January and February were a little above 9 million, and were hearing that March will be about the same if not worse than February, he said.
New-vehicle retail sales for March are projected to come in at 633,000 units, compared with 1.07 million units a year ago, J.D. Power forecasts. Retail sales in February totaled 557,000 units. To better reflect consumer demand for new vehicles, J.D. Power focuses on retail sales, which include only dealership sales and leases to private parties. Power does not include fleet sales.
The seasonally adjusted annualized rate for retail sales in March is expected to be 7.4 million units, down from 7.7 million units in February, J.D. Power said.
Total sales for March -- including fleet sales -- are projected to come in at 798,000 units -- which translates into a seasonally adjusted annualized rate, or SAAR, of 9.2 million units, J.D. Power said.
The lowest adjusted SAAR on record in at least 30 years was 8.8 million in December 1981.
Industry analyst Rich Kwas, of Wachovia Capital Markets, wrote today that March light-vehicles sales will total 780,000 units with a SAAR of 9.0 million units.
The good news is that inventory levels are declining, although stock remains well above average, Kwas wrote in a note to investors.
Sales traditionally have improved in the spring. This year several key introductions -- such as the new Chevrolet Camaro, a revamped Ford Mustang and Fusion, the Honda Insight, the Kia Soul and the Nissan Cube -- could help shore up April sales.
While the automotive market is down 40 percent year over year through the first quarter of 2009, the remainder of the year continues to be an open question, said Gary Dilts, senior vice president of global automotive operations at J.D. Power.
Were still seeing economic headwinds and reduced consumer demand for new vehicles, making it a tough marketplace, he said. However, we anticipate that improvements on Wall Street and a boost in consumer confidence will help to bring the market back.
Reuters contributed to this report