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Auto sales expected to fall in September

Auto sales expected to fall in September
Nissan's U.S. sales rose 4.9% over last September, but U.S. auto sales overall were expected to fall 1% for the month as demand slows. (Ian Langsdon / European Pressphoto Agency)

Automakers reported mixed U.S. sales results in September as demand for new cars and trucks sputtered.

Nissan's sales rose 4.9% over last September, and Toyota's were up 1.5%. But General Motors' sales were flat and Ford's sales dropped 8%.

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Other automakers are releasing September sales figures later Monday.

U.S. auto sales were expected to fall 1% to 1.4 million in September, the fourth month of declining sales this year, according to a joint forecast by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.

That's not necessarily bad news. Sales remain near historic highs, and some analysts suggest 2016 sales could even top the record of 17.5 million set last year. Favorable conditions such as low interest rates and low gas prices remain in place.

But after six straight years of growth, demand is clearly slowing. U.S. sales were up less than 1% through August, and a decline in September could push the year's totals into negative territory.

That has automakers pushing harder for sales. Incentive spending hit a record of $3,923 per vehicle last month, surpassing the previous high set in December 2008 during the recession.

BMW was offering $6,732 in incentives per vehicle in September, up 44% from a year ago, according to TrueCar.com. Fiat Chrysler spent $4,302 per vehicle on deals, up 23%. Buyers could get $4,500 cash back on a 2016 Ford Escape or $2,000 on a 2017 Chevrolet Malibu.

"Competitive pressure is at an all-time high," said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president and general manager of automotive data for LMC Automotive.

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