ATLANTA — Following a lower-than-expected February, Cox Automotive is forecasting March U.S. auto sales volume to hit 1.547 million, an increase from last month, but a nearly 7% decline from March 2018. The seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of sales is forecast to be 16.8 million units, up from February’s sales pace of 16.5 million, but down from last year’s 17.2 million pace.
Even with healthy March sales, the sales rate in the first quarter of 2019 is expected to be 16.7 million units, below the 17.1 million sales rate achieved in the first quarter of 2018. Over the past five years, March has been among the strongest months for new-vehicle sales as consumers emerge from winter hibernation and buy new vehicles, noted Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive
“We will be carefully watching how sales perform this month,” Chesbrough said. “March is an important indicator of the overall strength of the automotive market.”
Several factors are contributing to the auto sales outlook for the month. The number of selling days is 27, one fewer than last year, which increases the seasonal adjustment applied in the SAAR. In addition, volatility in the stock market and consumer confidence, the president’s trade policies, and recent statements by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell are adding uncertainty to the U.S. economy.
At the same time, prices, incentives, and auto loan rates are not presenting compelling reasons to buy. As a result, potential buyers may be hesitant to purchase. There’s little reason to expect the relatively weak sales pace in January and February will improve significantly in March, analysts said.
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