CHICAGO: American consumers’ appetite for cars eased significantly in July, as the industry continued to slow from last year’s record pace, according to sales figures released Tuesday.
Many car makers posted double digit declines — including General Motors and the US arm of Fiat Chrysler — leading to an industry-wide decline of seven percent compared to the same period last year and a four-percent decline from June.
Toyota was the lone exception among the biggest players in the North American market, posting a jump in sales attributed to its popular RAV4 compact SUV.
Demand for SUVs and light trucks remained a bright spot and helped buoy the industry’s selling prices, but incentives to lure in customers also increased, mostly for slower-selling compact models and sedans.
Analysts expected sales to pick up for the remainder of the year, as consumers pay more attention to incentives and companies offer deals to move older models off the lots to make room for 2018 inventory.
The July sales pace amounted to an annual rate of 16.73 million units, seasonally adjusted, down from 17.81 million at this time last year.
“Sales tend to come down and cool off in June and July,” Kelly Blue Book (KBB) analyst Alec Gutierrez told reporters in a conference call.
“We’re going to see greater volume in August and September,” he said, while cautioning that the industry was unlikely to match record sales in 2016, when it sold 17.55 million automobiles in the US.
The overall numbers were mostly in line with expectations, after June’s industry-wide decline of three percent — from the month prior and in the year-over-year comparison.
But analysts said some car makers did not meet expectations.
“Cars as a group are not selling well, especially at Ford,” said Brian Moody of Autotrader. “Cars are dragging everything down.”
Companies with stronger SUV and truck offerings were in a position to better take advantage of the shift in consumer demand, analysts said.
At General Motors, SUVs and trucks accounted for a staggering 80 percent of sales. Still, that was not enough to lift the largest American automaker, which reported a steep 15.4 percent sales decline in July compared to the same period last year.
“GM needs to consider applying tough love metrics to some car lines. The numbers are just bleak,” KBB analyst Rebecca Lindland said.
Sales in the US division of Fiat Chrysler plunged 10 percent, and Ford dropped 7.5 percent — although its F-series pickups were up nearly six percent.
Japanese car giant Toyota saw sales increase 3.6 percent with RAV4 sales topping 40,000 units for the first time.
Other Japanese carmakers were not able to match that success, although their sales were down far less than their American counterparts.
Nissan reported a 3.2 percent decline, while sales of its SUVs and light trucks rose five percent — with sales of some models more than tripling.
Honda was down 1.2 percent, but in an unusual twist it sold more cars than trucks and SUVs.
Honda said its core sedan lineup of Civics and Accords — among the most popular sedans offered in the US — saw a sales gain of 2.8 percent. Trucks decreased 1.7 percent, which the company attributed to limited inventory.
“There is still a need for midsized sedans or compact sedans,” KBB’s Gutierrez said, but with that portion of the market shrinking, “only the cream of the crop really kind of rise to the top.”
European carmakers fared poorly. BMW was down 13.7 percent with its passenger cars and compact MINI brand dragging down sales. Volkswagen, which last month posted a 15-percent gain, dropped 2.8 percent.
Thanks to larger, more expensive SUVs and trucks, the average transaction price industry-wide rose 1.7 percent to $34,721, according to KBB.