Automakers posted mixed U.S. auto sales for July, amid rising incentives and sustained demand for trucks, as the industry kicked off the second half of the year with a slight 0.5 percent gain.
The seasonally adjusted annual selling rate for July came in at 17.86 million cars and light trucks -- the highest rate of the year and slightly above forecasts. The latest SAAR also topped July 2015’s revised rate of 17.58 million and June’s 16.69 million pace.
The light-vehicle SAAR has now averaged 17.37 million a month since topping 18 million in September, October and November of 2015.
The July results are being scrutinized amid signs consumers are becoming more sensitive to new-vehicle pricing and a growing concern that the U.S. market is leveling off after six consecutive years of gains since the Great Recession. U.S. sales this year have now advanced 1.1 percent to 10.156 million through July, vs. growth of 1.4 percent in the first half.
The new-vehicle market has become “very price sensitive,” Mark LaNeve, Ford Motor Co.'s U.S. sales chief, warned Tuesday on a conference call with journalists and analysts. He said Ford saw a “fairly dramatic decrease” in lease volume after undertaking “modest increases in our lease prices” in July.
Amid signs of lower growth, automakers face a tough comparison with the second half of 2015, when sales were notably robust in September, October and November. Some analysts say the industry's prospects of topping 2015's record car and light truck sales are dimming with five months to go.
“It's clear the industry is plateauing, as we're now seeing signs of SUVs slowing down for several brands, while sedans continue to struggle," said Akshay Anand, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "With incentives continuing to rise faster than average transaction prices, combined with slowing growth, the industry is in a tricky spot."