J.D. Power and Associates cut its U.S. auto sales forecasts for the remainder of 2010 and 2011 as it expects a slow economic recovery, the consultancy said on Thursday.
The lower forecasts came amid deepening concern about a double-dip U.S. recession. They also came a day after General Motors Co GM.UL filed for an IPO and said the chance of weaker auto sales was a major risk for the company's success.
J.D. Power cut its 2011 sales forecast to 13.2 million light vehicles, from a previous forecast of 13.7 million.
The firm lowered its forecast for 2010 to 11.6 million vehicles, from 11.7 million.
While the 2010 figure is an increase from the decades-low sales of 10.4 million vehicles in 2009, it is the latest in a series of declining forecasts for the industry made by major automakers and analysts.
Recent forecasts and sales figures are well below the average U.S. annual sales rate of 16.4 million vehicles in the years 2000-2008.
Also on Thursday, the U.S. Labor Department reported that claims for unemployment benefits rose to a nine-month high last week.
J.D. Power lowered its forecast for 2011 retail sales, which are often seen as a better indicator of the health of the industry than overall sales, to 10.7 million vehicles from 11.3 million. Retail sales do not include bulk, or fleet, sales to businesses, government and rental car agencies.
Cautious consumer spending, due in part to persistent high unemployment, is a key reason for lower forecasts, said Jeff Schuster, director of forecasting for J.D. Power.
While a sharper uptick in vehicle sales was previously expected for 2011, the reality of a prolonged recovery has driven a reduction in the forecast, he said.
Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of Edmunds.com, said on Thursday that new-car buyers are focusing on end-of-model-year bargain prices.
This is a bargain-driven market, said Anwyl, so as the deals dry up, sales will likely trend down from here.
J.D. Power forecast total light vehicle sales for August at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 11.8 million, down from 14.1 million a year earlier, when August sales were boosted by the U.S. government's cash-for-clunkers sales incentives.
Based on early August sales, monthly sales for No. 1 global leader Toyota Motor Corp will be flat with July sales, Edmunds.com analyst Ray Zhou said.
Zhou said General Motors, No. 1 in U.S. sales, will see August sales drop about 6 percent to 7 percent from July figures, while Ford, and Honda will see month-to-month gains of 7 percent to 8 percent in August.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by John Wallace and Steve Orlofsky)