DETROIT -- The U.S. sales plateau is here.
That’s the consensus of several auto analysts who spoke at automotive conferences here Sunday ahead of the Detroit auto show press preview.
“2017 will be another strong year, although we think it just won’t be strong enough to set another record,” said Eric Ibara, director of residual value consulting at Kelley Blue Book, at a Cox Automotive event.
KBB forecasts sales of 17.3 million new vehicles in the U.S. this year, slightly below the record 17.5 million units automakers sold this year.
The KBB forecast is roughly in line with those of most other auto analysts and economists, which signal U.S. sales are set to remain at current levels or drop off slightly this year.
U.S. sales have grown seven straight years now since the severe downturn of 2008-09, though recent gains have been fueled by fatter discounts.
Mustafa Mohatarem, General Motors’ chief economist, anticipates a record year for 2017 North American sales, as a bump in Mexico sales makes up for slight declines in U.S. and Canadian deliveries.
That U.S. sales will stay near their peak for a third consecutive year -- 2016 sales came in just a notch, or some 56,000 units, above 2015 -- is unusual, said Mohatarem, speaking at a Society of Automotive Analysts in downtown Detroit.
“We will have a downturn, but what we’re seeing, that sales will remain near record, that actually breaks with history,” he said, noting broad, favorable economic trends that will allow the industry to maintain sales at recent levels.
Michael Robinet, IHS Markit’s managing director of automotive advisory services, foresees a “relatively stable” sales year for the industry at 17.5 million units.
“What’s probably more important than the overall volume, to be frank, is mix,” Robinet said. “It’s more about really understanding how that’s going to impact the market moving forward. We continue to expect light-truck volumes … to continue to be relatively strong.”
U.S. auto sales have been driven by a surge in pickups, crossovers and SUVs as consumers increasingly shun family sedans and other cars. That’s a trend that’s likely to continue in the near future, most analysts agreed. In 2016, deliveries of crossovers, SUVs, pickups, minivans and other light trucks accounted for a record 60.7 percent of all light vehicles sold in the U.S.
UBS analyst Colin Langan, speaking at the SAA event, is more bullish on 2017 U.S. sales, forecasting 17.8 million units sold, about 2 percent higher than last year’s total. He said his optimism was fueled by growing U.S. consumer sentiment, forecasted gross domestic product growth of 2.6 percent and an aging vehicle population, which will prompt some consumers back into the new-vehicle market.