Summer may be fading into fall, but the U.S. auto market continues to sizzle, industry analysts anticipating sales will be the best, when the final numbers are tallied, since before the recession began.
On a seasonally adjust annual rate, or SAAR, the industry is expected to report a 16.4 million pace, well above the initial forecast for all of 2014 — and a hint that the car market could show even more momentum in the months to come as fuel prices fall and the economy gains more momentum.
“We expect another strong month for the industry with the best September since 2007,” said John Krafcik, president of TrueCar.
Equally significant, the late-summer surge seems to have come without the hefty incentive push seen in the past to build market momentum.
“Incentive spending has tapered off from August, a month where we found increases attributable to shifts in segment mix, model-year clearance and holiday events. September incentive spending and transaction price growth are at healthy levels,” added Krafcik, who suggested sales could reach an annualized pace of 16.4 million units in September.
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Tracking service Edmunds massaged the number even higher, to 16.5 million units, while it anticipated that year-over-year sales will be up by close to a double-digit percentage, noted Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell.
“September sales are consistent with the strength we’ve seen most of this year,” Caldwell said. “But the topline sales aren’t as interesting as the ways in which shoppers have driven those sales. Buyers have been able to secure low financing deals and have responded to lease offers in record numbers. These are behaviors that bode well for the continued strength of new car sales,” she said.
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Another major tracking service, Kelley Blue Book, predicted a new-vehicle sales increase of 9.1% for the month, with September’s total fleet and retail sales coming in at 1.24 million units. Based on the robust sales pace during the past few months, the service also raised its own sales outlook for 2014 from 16.3 million to 16.4 million.
But Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Alec Gutierrez was a bit more cautious about the outlook for the months ahead, cautioning that “sales (may) level out in September.” Gutierrez remained positive, on the whole, adding that, “Sales will remain strong and show healthy year-over-year improvement. Rising incentive spend in recent months has been more than offset by increasing retail transaction prices, signaling continued consumer demand.”
As for individual carmakers, analysts pointed to Chrysler Group as likely to post one of the strongest gains for September, with an anticipated volume increase of 17%, marking its seventh month of double-digit growth this year. Chrysler is benefitting from its Jeep and RAM brands, which have pushed their market share up by a full point this year, to its highest point since 2007, Gutierrez said.
With the benefit of an extra selling day, big gains are expected for many manufacturers in September. One exception could be Ford, which may see a decline in sales of its big F-Series pickups as it prepares to launch an all-new model later this year. The 2015 F-150 shifts to a lightweight aluminum body likely to yield a significant fuel economy improvement.
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Meanwhile, the compact utility segment has surpassed the full-size pickup truck segment to become the third most popular niche in the U.S. market, trailing only midsize and compact cars. But that could be good news for consumers.
“With market share in the midsize and compact car segments continually under fire and the competitive landscape stronger than ever before,” said Gutierrez, “consumers can expect to find great deals on the Camry, Civic and other traditional segment leaders.”