U.S. auto sales aren’t tumbling down a cliff, but they’re clearly no longer in flat, steady territory either.
Automotive News reported that after six monthly declines to start the year, the industry is down 2.4% halfway through 2019. It’s on pace to finish at slightly more than 16.9 million, which would be the first time shy of 17 million since 2014.
That’s still strong by historical standards. And all analyst bets are off if the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates this year, as rising auto loan rates have hurt demand.
“The U.S. economy continues to grow at a healthy pace. Jobs are plentiful and inflation remains low,” General Motors chief economist, Elaine Buckberg, said in a statement last week. “Auto demand was better than anticipated in the first half and we expect strong performance in the second half of the year. If the Fed cuts rates, as widely expected, lower financing costs will provide further support to auto sales.”
Pickups picking up steam
There’s no sign of slowing momentum for pickups. Full-size pickups rose 1.5% in the first half of the year, with Ram taking share from most of its rivals, and the Ford Ranger and Jeep Gladiator pushing midsize pickups to a 15% gain.
Ram’s two-truck strategy — it’s still building and selling the previous generation to attract cost-conscious customers, while raking in huge profits from the higher-priced new version — has it poised to finish the year ahead of the Chevrolet Silverado for the first time. Ram nearly doubled its lead over the Silverado in June to more than 44,000. The Ford F series remains solidly in first place, but it will likely face mounting pressure in the second half of the year as the battle between Chevy and Ram intensifies.
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