Sales expected to gain over storm-ravaged month last year
Editor's note: Hurricane Harvey hit the U.S. in August 2017. A previous version of this story referred to two hurricanes hitting during that month. Hurricane Irma reached the U.S. in September 2017.
U.S. light-vehicle sales in August are expected to rise from year-ago levels, when a major hurricane crippled new-car transactions in some of the country's largest vehicle markets, according to three forecasts.
Cox Automotive, Edmunds and J.D. Power/LMC Automotive all project gains of about 1 percent for the month. Sales events tied to Labor Day are expected to fuel much of the increase, even though transactions completed over Labor Day weekend will count toward September.
Thomas King, senior vice president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power, said in a statement that Hurricane Harvey made landfall in August 2017 and affected Labor Day sales events. "Labor Day remains one of the most heavily shopped periods in the year, accounting for nearly 3 percent of annual sales, as consumers take advantage of discounts that extend through the first weekend of September," he said.
The average incentive per vehicle for the first three weeks of August was down $141 from the same time last year, J.D. Power said, due to smaller discounts on sedans.
Automakers are scheduled to report U.S. deliveries for August on Tuesday, Sept. 4. The month has 27 selling days, the same as August 2017.
U.S. sales are up 1.1 percent this year through July, after falling in 2017 for the first time since the market collapse of 2008-09. Macroeconomic factors such as consumer confidence and new housing starts — which often drive pickup purchases — remain strong.
Each forecasting firm predicts a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 16.8 million vehicles in August, which would mark the second consecutive month the SAAR has fallen below 17 million. Despite the favorable year-over-year comparisons this month, analysts expect a slower sales pace for the rest of the year.
"The market remains strong, and all the talk of higher interest rates and trade tariffs is not chasing away buyers," Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive, said in a statement. "However, we are still forecasting a slowing sales pace over the remaining months of the year as buying conditions slowly deteriorate due mostly to higher interest rates and continued high gasoline prices."
Cox calls for full-year sales in 2018 of 16.8 million vehicles, down slightly from the 17.25 million sold in 2017, although LMC increased its forecast by 100,000 units, to 17.2 million, based on higher fleet volume than expected this year.
Edmunds said , through July, new-vehicle inventories had fallen to their lowest levels since 2016.
"There are a lot of things working against the automotive market right now: Incentive spending is maxed out, interest rates are rising and vehicle prices are reaching record highs," Jeremy Acevedo, Edmunds' manager of industry analysis, said in a statement. "Add to that the uncertainty that comes with renegotiating NAFTA and tariff talks and it amounts to what could be a challenging back half of the year for automakers."
Both Edmunds and Cox predict FCA US will post the largest August sales increase among major automakers. Edmunds expects a 15 percent gain while Cox calls for a 11 percent rise.
They expect sales to fall at Ford Motor Co. and General Motors. Cox also predicts declines for American Honda and Subaru of America, which would snap Subaru's streak of 80 consecutive monthly sales increases. The Subaru forecast calls for a 0.3 percent dip.
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