New U.S. light-vehicle sales are expected to rise slightly in April from a year earlier, thanks to a favorable calendar. April's seasonally adjusted annualized rate of sales, which incorporates variations in the number of selling days, is expected to decline after most automakers report results for the month on Wednesday.
TrueCar's ALG projects new light-vehicle sales of 1.38 million, a 2 percent increase from a year earlier. Edmunds predicts a 0.3 percent rise in sales, while J.D. Power/LMC Automotive projects a 0.5 percent increase and Cox Automotive sees a 1 percent gain.
The increases are all less than the roughly 4 percent inflation that typically corresponds with one extra day of regular dealership operations. While most outlets report one extra selling day this month compared with a year earlier, Cox said there were two extra days.
Strong sales to fleet customers have mitigated falling demand by individual retail consumers, according to analysts.
"From an overall volume perspective, the industry continues to show signs of softness with April representing the 10th straight month of year-over-year retail sales declines," Thomas King, senior vice president of J.D. Power's data and analytics division, said in a statement. "Yet we continue to see strength in other key industry health metrics, with a large increase in average transaction prices and lower manufacturer incentives."
J.D. Power's forecast is based on the first 17 selling days of the month.
Cox expects the seasonally adjusted annualized rate of sales to decline to 16.9 million new light vehicles from a 17.3 million pace last April and a 17.4 million rate in March. Edmunds predicts a SAAR of 16.8 million, ALG projects 17.1 million and J.D. Power/LMC calls for 16.9 million.
Those estimates are generally in line with analysts' expectations for the year, which is expected to come in below 17 million for the first time since 2014. Sales through the first three months of 2019 were down 3.2 percent to 3.99 million light vehicles, after stronger than expected sales in March partially offset a slow start in January and February.
"Most market watchers were expecting the sales pace last month to continue at the mid-16 million level seen in January and February," Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive, said in a statement. "However, delayed purchasing from a severe winter and aggressive fleet activity lifted March sales much higher than expected."
Prices up, incentives down
Going forward, increasing vehicle prices -- with incentives remaining mostly in check -- may continue to suppress retail demand.
Average new-vehicle prices are expected to rise almost 4 percent to $33,695 -– an all-time high for April, according to J.D. Power/LMC. Prices of cars were up 1 percent to $27,477, and those of light trucks rose 4 percent to $36,338. At the same time, overall incentive spending was down by $300 to $3,408 per unit. Light trucks accounted for 69.7 percent of new-vehicle retail sales through April 21, a record level for the month, J.D. Power/LMC said.
ALG estimated the average transaction price was $34,319 in April for all light vehicles, and called it a rise of 2.9 percent. ALG expected average incentive spending to drop $152 from last April to $3,488 per vehicle.
Cox and Edmunds predict April sales declines for the largest automakers, save for a hefty increase for Nissan. Among the Detroit 3, Cox expects declines of 1.1 percent for General Motors, 6.8 percent for Ford Motor Co. and 2.3 percent for FCA US. Edmunds estimates drops of 0.6 percent for GM, 5.8 percent for Ford and 6.1 percent for FCA US.
Cox calls for an almost 20 percent rise at Nissan, while Edmunds projects a 13 percent increase. Both companies expect declines of less than 2 percent for Toyota, Honda and Hyundai/Kia. Edmunds sees VW Group sales rising 4.1 percent, while Cox projects a 1 percent gain.