September new-car incentives set new record near $4,000

DETROIT - 

In what could be an ominous development for the used-vehicle department down the road, J.D. Power and LMC Automotive indicated that they have never seen franchised dealers slap as much cash on the hood as they are seeing this month to keep new metal turning.

Analysts reported on Monday that incentive spending thus far in September is at a record level of $3,923 per unit. That figure surpassed the previous high of $3,753 set in December 2008.

Despite that activity, J.D. Power and LMC Automotive projected that for the fifth time in the past seven months, U.S. new-vehicle retail sales are expected to drop in September, falling 1.4 percent from a year ago.

Retail sales are on pace to reach 1,185,500 units in September, while total sales are projected to fall 0.8 percent to 1,429,100.

Labor Day weekend is typically one of the highest volume sales weekends in the year. Analysts noted the weekend’s sales this September were 199,493 units, a 1 percent decrease compared with 2015. This decline was despite elevated incentive programs from manufacturers.

“The industry can be viewed through two competing perspectives,” said Deirdre Borrego, senior vice president and general manager of automotive data and analytics at J.D. Power.

The first is that in absolute terms, the industry is performing at an exceptional level,” Borrego said. “While sales have fallen slightly, they are at near-record levels and transaction prices are at all-time highs.

“The second is less positive. With the rate of growth slowing, leading indicators are pointing to challenges ahead. Specifically in September, incentive spending is at an all-time high,” Borrego went on to say.

J.D. Power and LMC Automotive noted that retail sales year to date through September are expected to be down 1.3 percent, compared with the same period in 2015, while total sales are expected to be up 0.5 percent.

“The U.S. automotive market continues to show signs of little growth, yet in our opinion the numbers do not reflect a significant weakness or risk, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive.

“The expectation remains for steady volume levels at the topline, despite a pullback in the retail market and increased monthly performance volatility,” Schuster continued. “However, group and brand performance is beginning to diverge as competitive pressure is at an all-time high.”

Also of note for the used-vehicle industry, J.D. Power and LMC Automotive predicted fleet sales would reach 243,600 in September, a 2.1 percent increase from September of last year. That figure would account for 17.0 percent of total light-vehicle sales.

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