DETROIT – The raft of gloomy economic news may be starting to hurt U.S. auto sales.
Industry analysts and dealers said this week that sales during the first half of July slowed a bit from the robust pace in June. But they still were expected to be better than July of 2011.
"It’s a bit slower than where we want it to be," said Inder Dosanjh, owner of several General Motors dealerships in the San Francisco-Bay area.
Dealers such as Dosanjh may be wondering if car buyers, who’ve largely ignored sobering economic headlines, are finally getting discouraged. A widely followed reading on consumer confidence has fallen for four straight months. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke acknowledged this week that the economy has weakened.
For the first half of the year, sales of cars and trucks ran at an annual rate of 14.3 million, the best pace in 5 years. Car buyers bought everything from compacts to big pickups, making the auto industry a bright spot in the economy. The only hiccup came in May, when sales slipped to a 13.8 million annual rate as the stock market plunged. Buyers returned in June to drive sales back up to a 14.1 million rate.
Jeff Schuster was expecting sales to tail off in the early part of July, partly because promotions leading up to Independence Day may have pulled sales ahead into June. The senior vice president of forecasting at the LMC Automotive consulting firm in Troy, Mich. predicts July sales likely will come in at an annual rate below 13.8 million.