Automakers post disappointing U.S. sales, still see strong 2016

Fri Apr 1, 2016 3:56pm EDT
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By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co (GM.N: Quote), Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU.N: Quote) (FCHA.MI: Quote) and other major automakers reported weaker-than-expected U.S. sales for March, hurt by declining demand for sedans and light dealer traffic during the Easter weekend.

Sales for the month rose 3 percent to nearly 1.6 million vehicles, or 16.57 million vehicles on an annualized basis, according to industry analyst Autodata Corp. That was well below expectations of a rise of about 7 percent and annualized estimates that ranged from 17 million to 17.5 million by analysts and economists polled by Thomson Reuters.

WardsAuto, which issues data used in U.S. government figures, showed an annualized rate of 16.46 million vehicles.

Shares of several automakers fell.

Mark Wakefield, head of AlixPartners' automotive practice, said light dealer traffic over the Easter weekend, which usually comes in April, hampered sales. But he said that 2016 sales would exceed the 2015 record of 17.4 million vehicles as relatively low interest rates, strong employment and low gasoline prices support demand for new vehicles, particularly SUVs and pickup trucks.

The shift away from sedans and toward SUVs and trucks is becoming more pronounced. Autodata showed that 56.9 percent of March sales were SUVs and trucks versus 52.7 percent a year ago. In March, car sales fell 6 percent while SUV and truck sales rose 11.4 percent.

IHS Automotive analyst Christopher Hopson said, "With ample incentives and inventory levels, the sales pace should quicken in the second quarter."

While Ford Motor Co's (F.N: Quote) and Nissan Motor Co's (7201.T: Quote) results topped estimates, those of the remaining top automakers in the U.S. market fell short of expectations.   Continued...

A logo of Ford is pictured on a car at the 86th International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland, March 1, 2016.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse