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March Auto Sales to Increase

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March 28, 2019—Cox Automotive is forecasting March U.S. auto sales volume to hit 1.547 million, an increase from last month, but a nearly 7 percent decline from March 2018. The seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of sales is forecast to be 16.8 million units, up from February's sales pace of 16.5 million, but down from last year's 17.2 million pace.

Even with healthy March sales, the sales rate in the first quarter of 2019 is expected to be 16.7 million units, below the 17.1 million sales rate achieved in the first quarter of 2018.

Over the past five years, March has been among the strongest months for new-vehicle sales as consumers emerge from winter hibernation and buy new vehicles. "We will be carefully watching how sales perform this month," said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive. "March is an important indicator of the overall strength of the automotive market."

Several factors are contributing to the auto sales outlook for the month. The number of selling days is one less this year, 27 versus 28 last year, which increases the seasonal adjustment applied in the SAAR. In addition, volatility in the stock market and consumer confidence, the president's trade policies, and recent statements by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell are adding uncertainty to the U.S. economy. At the same time, prices, incentives, and auto loan rates are not presenting compelling reasons to buy. As a result, potential buyers may be hesitant to purchase. There's little reason to expect the relatively weak sales pace in January and February will improve significantly in March.

March 2019 Sales Forecast Highlights

  • New light-vehicle sales volume is forecast to increase by more than 290,000 vehicles versus February 2019, up 23.2 percent. March is traditionally a big-volume month.
  • Sales, including fleet, are expected to reach 1.547 million units, down 6.7 percent from year-ago levels.
  • Seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) is forecast to be 16.8 million, up from last month's 16.5 million level, but down from the 17.2 million pace recorded in March 2018.
  • An all-time March record occurred in 2000, with sales of 1.67 million and a SAAR of 17.8 million.

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