Detroit automakers’ sales dip, drag industry down

In this Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, photo, Chevrolet cars sit on the lot of a dealer in Pittsburgh. On Monday, July 3, 2017, automakers release monthly sales reports. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

DETROIT (AP) — Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Hyundai all reported U.S. sales drops last month, apparently dragging the industry to its sixth straight month of declining numbers as auto sales slow from last year’s record pace.

Fiat Chrysler sales were down 7.4 percent, while Ford said its sales declined 5.1 percent. GM was off 4.7 percent and Korean automaker Hyundai posted a hefty 19.2 percent decrease. Analysts are predicting an overall June drop of more than 2 percent when all sales numbers come in on Monday, even though Toyota, Nissan and Honda each reported small gains.

If June sales fall as expected, sales for the first half of the year would be down for the first time since the financial crisis in 2009.

But Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs said a small dip is not an indication of economic troubles since unemployment is low and consumer confidence remains high. She doesn’t expect a big recovery in the second half of the year, but also doesn’t see a huge decline, predicting full-year sales from between 16.8 million to 17.3 million. That’s below last year’s record of 17.55 million.

“We think the second half could be a little bit stronger than the first half was,” says Krebs, who expects 2016 still to be the fifth-best year on record. “We don’t see any imbalances that suggest anything is going to collapse.”

Krebs says sales should remain healthy even though credit is tightening slightly and automakers are cutting back on sweet lease deals. “We’re down but not out,” she said.

Sales are falling largely because people who delayed car and truck purchases in the years since the Great Recession have bought new ones, says Jessica Caldwell, executive director of analysis for Edmunds.com. “We’re kind of at the point where we don’t have a boost from that,” she says.

Also, auto companies are cutting back on lease deals as used-car values fall, curtailing another incentive to buy, Caldwell says.

She says now is the time to buy a car with dealer stockpiles growing before production cuts take effect later in the year.

With few exceptions, U.S. buyers continued a trend they’ve been following for years. They’re buying SUVs and trucks and shunning cars. Sales of Toyota’s Camry, normally the top-selling non-pickup truck in the U.S., fell nearly 10 percent. But Ford’s F-Series pickup, the top-selling vehicle in America, rose nearly 10 percent.

Toyota reported a 2.1 percent sales increase, while Honda posted nearly a 1 percent gain and Nissan sales were up 2 percent. Volkswagen sales rose 15 percent increase over June of 2016 when they were depressed by VW’s diesel engine emissions-cheating scandal.

The shift is good news for companies that rely heavily on pickup trucks and SUVs such as Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler.

Mark LaNeve, Ford’s vice president of sales, said even though Ford’s retail sales to individual customers were down 1 percent in the first half of the year, its revenue will be up because of strong sales of loaded-out pickup trucks.

The shift won’t be such good news for brands like Hyundai, which is heavily dependent on car sales. Sales of Hyundai’s Elantra compact car, normally among the brand’s top-selling vehicles, fell more than 40 percent to just over 13,000. A year ago, Hyundai set a sales record for the month of June.

Even with the sales decline, auto prices remain high, according to J.D. Power and LMC Automotive. The average vehicle sold for $31,720 in June, a record for the month, surpassing the old record of $31,073 set last year. But some automakers are having to raise discounts and sell more vehicles to rental car companies to keep their sales numbers up. The average incentive spend per vehicle in June was $3,661 in June, also a record for the month. Even spending on trucks and SUVs is up about $350 from last year, J.D. Power and LMC estimated.

The general manager of the Honda division in the U.S., Jeff Conrad, conceded that the competition is stiff. He said Honda posted an increase “against a sea of competitors clinging to market share via heavy incentives and fleet sales.”

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