Auto makers offered big discounts over the Memorial Day holiday, but the response from US car buyers in May was not enough to definitively reverse months of sales declines.
After seven years of gains, there were further signs that US car sales have plateaued, analysts said, as monthly sales data suggested a mixed picture amid heavy incentives to lure buyers into showrooms, even as truck and SUV sales surged.
The biggest US car maker, GM, saw its sales fall 1.3 percent last month compared to the same period a year earlier.
FCA US, the North American arm of Fiat Chrysler, also saw a one percent decline, while Toyota sales were down 0.5 percent.
Ford reported a 2.2 percent sales gain, but all of that was attributable to fleet sales, to rental companies and government agencies, rather than consumer purchases from dealer lots.
Nissan posted an increase of three percent as it offered deep discounts, including a $10,000 incentive on its Titan truck and zero percent financing on a number of other models, according to industry analyst Michelle Krebs of Autotrader.
Other car companies also offered big deals to encourage consumers to buy. Average incentive spending reached $3,583 per vehicle, a record for May, according to the research firm JD Power.
The good news was the American consumer’s strong appetite for SUVs and light trucks was still growing, and that category accounted for almost two-thirds of all cars sold in May, according to JD Power.
“Although down from last year, the auto industry is still enjoying a solid year in 2017, with light trucks continuing to shine,” said Jack Hollis, Toyota division’s US chief.
“We continue to see the SUV segment leading the way,” he said in a statement.
Truck and SUV sales jumped 12.4 percent at Toyota this May compared to last, and GM reported retail sales of its crossover vehicles surged 19 percent. FCA US said it sold 16 percent more Ram pickup trucks.
Ford not only sold 12.8 percent more F-Series pickups, it did so with the average transaction price of those vehicles up $3,300.
Thanks to strong consumer demand for more expensive, large vehicles, consumers likely spent about $38.4 billion on new cars in May, up about $1 billion from last year, and a record for the month, according to a forecast by JD Power.
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