The world’s second-largest car market--the United States--is expected to reach a turning point this year, five years after the industry tumbled to record low sales volume during the last global recession.
But April’s new-vehicle sales figures came in about 200,000 units shy of the predictions of industry watchers; they expected about 1.4 million new-auto deliveries last month. U.S. new vehicle sales is one of the key indicators of consumer sentiment and the health of a segment of the U.S. economy that supports about 3.8 million U.S. workers in auto parts, vehicle manufacturing and retail, according to the latest government estimate.
The seasonally adjusted annualized rate, or SAAR, the 12-month running estimate of sales, was 16 million instead of the expected 16.2 million. Sales were up 8 percent compared to April 2014, but they were down 10 percent from March. April is usually a slower month compared to March or May, but industry experts seemed to have overestimated the extent of the post-winter sales rush that helped pump up deliveries toward the end of March.
Despite the forecast miss, sales are still growing and nobody is ready to declare that the market has topped out, though momentum has been slowing.
“Ford saw some losses in car sales, but it did well enough in SUV and trucks,” said Jesse Toprak, chief autos analyst for auto pricing and information provider Cars.com. “The Ford number was a bit disappointing but the overall industry performance was pretty much as expected.”
Nissan emerged as a surprise performer with total sales topping 18 percent year-over-year growth, ahead of the second biggest sales performer Chrysler Group LLC with 14 percent growth.
“Nissan was a bit of a surprise,” said Jessica Caldwell, senior autos analysts for auto pricing and information provider Edmunds.com. “Usually sales drop after the end of its fiscal year in March, but this year their sales performance continued to be strong.”
May tends to be a stronger month than April, so if next month’s sales don’t top 16 million than there may be adjustments to expectations in the works. The industry still needs to assuage concerns about its health.