Major U.S. automakers' sales
figures for March came in below market expectations and gave early evidence
that America's long, robust boom cycle for car sales may finally be losing
General Motors Co and Fiat
Chrysler Automobiles NV shares both fell almost 4 percent, while Ford Motor Co was
off 3 percent.
Auto industry publication
WardsAuto put the seasonally-adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) for light vehicle
sales in March at 16.53 million units. Industry consultant Autodata put
industry SAAR at 16.62 million units for March.
That was below the 17.3 million
analysts polled by Reuters had expected, and the first time since August that
the SAAR - a crucial industry metric - had fallen below 17 million.
March "was a tough, tough,
tough market," said Judy Wheeler, vice president of U.S. sales at Nissan
Motor Co Ltd, which reported a 3.2 percent increase in March sales. "It's
going to be an aggressive year and I think everybody realizes that."
Industry experts are increasingly
concerned about rising inventory levels and consumer discounts as automakers
push harder to sell their products. A pricing war in the market could undermine
Last week, Moody's warned that
flattening U.S. auto sales pose a significant credit risk for auto lenders.
Karl Brauer, executive publisher
at auto industry consultancy Kelley Blue Book said while overall sales looked
"healthy" in March discounts "have risen across the board, even
on the same truck and SUV models that used to sell themselves."
Nissan's Wheeler said Nissan's
internal data showed consumer discounts were $441 higher per vehicle than a
year ago and inventory levels were on the rise.
Nissan trucks, SUVs and
crossovers were up 26 percent and had hit record highs, especially its
high-selling Rogue crossover.
Car sales in America have risen
since end of the Great Recession and hit a record last year of 17.55 million.
Trucks and SUVs pushed sales at
some major automakers higher in March at the expense of cars as American
consumers continued to shun smaller vehicles amid low gasoline prices.
GM reported a 2 percent increase
in sales to just over 256,000 vehicles, with sales of its Tahoe and Suburban
SUV models seeing their best sales month since 2008.
Sales at Ford Motor Co fell more
than 7 percent to 236,000 vehicles, with fleet sales to rental agencies,
businesses and government entities down nearly 17 percent on the year. Sales of
Ford's F-Series pickup trucks rose 10 percent on the year.
The F-Series has been the best-selling
model in the United States since 1982 and is a key profit generator for the No.
2 U.S. automaker.
Toyota Motor Corp reported a 2.1
percent decrease in sales. Fiat Chrysler said sales were down 5 percent on the
year, though its popular Ram pickup was up 6 percent.
Honda Motor Co Ltd reported an
overall decline in sales of 0.7 percent versus March 2016, but said truck sales
were up 8.4 percent.
GM shares were down 3.8 percent
at $34.03 and Ford was off 3 percent at $11.29. Fiat Chrysler shares were down
5.9 percent in New York trading at $10.28.
The news also weighed on car
retailer stocks. The March sales offered the market a glimpse of the overall
health of middle-class American consumers.
Car retailer Penske Auto Group was
down 1.5 percent and Group 1 Automotive was down 3.3 percent on Monday morning.