‘Robust’ or not, here’s where auto sales are expected to go in 2018

There’s no sugar-coating it.

Most industry experts expect new-vehicle sales to decline in 2018.

Estimates so far are for new-vehicle sales about 750,000 units below the 17.35 million average of the last three years when sales reached an all-time high (2016).

If the forecasts hold, sales still would exceed 2014, according to those experts, led by trucks and SUVs.

Trucks and SUVs are expected to lead U.S. sales in 2018.

Trucks and SUVs are expected to lead U.S. sales in 2018.

However, franchise dealers may make up some lost ground with an increase in used-car sales.

The National Auto Dealers Association forecasts that new-car dealerships will retail 15.3 million used vehicles in 2018, compared to an expected 15.1 million used sales this year.

Overall, if you listen to Mark Scarpelli, NADA chairman and an Illinois multi-franchise dealer, the sales decline is not scaring anyone.

“We expect 2018 to be a robust year,” he said recently.

“Every dealer in America, myself included, would be thrilled with a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of above 16 million [new cars],” he said, “because it means that, one, the market is stable, and two, that demand is still healthy. And both factors are true in this case.”

The average estimate among 11 analysts and economists surveyed recently by Bloomberg News is that new-vehicle sales will decline to 16.7 million cars and light trucks in 2018. NADA has predicted 16.7 million in sales, while industry insiders such as AutoTrader.com, Kelley Blue Book and Cox Automotive are forecasting sales of around 16.6 million.

“The U.S. auto industry may be closing out the first annual decline since [The Great Recession], but it’s a long way from carmageddon,” according to Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, Toyota also believes the U.S. auto market is headed to a second-straight year of shrinking demand, but bringing sales back to “a level the industry can sustain.”

“We’re seeing indications that automakers could close 2018 in the mid-to-upper 16-million mark,” said Jack Hollis, group vice president of U.S. sales for Toyota. “That’s not a record-setting figure, but, like this year, it will give automakers a sustainable target.”

While analysts generally agree sales are weakening, there still is disagreement on where they will settle. Some forecast the plateau at more than 17 million vehicles, others a bit lower.

That’s still “an incredibly strong market,” said Cox, “so there’s no need to panic.”

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