J.D. Power and Associates Reports: High Gas Prices and Lower Incentive Levels Contributing to Dismal Start for May New-Vehicle Retail Sales

May 19, 2011, 09:03 ET from J.D. Power and Associates

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif., May 19, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- New-vehicle retail sales are off to a weak start in May as several variables, including gas prices that are nearing historically high levels, have contributed to a significant pullback from the strong showing in April, according to J.D. Power and Associates, which gathers real-time transaction data from more than 8,900 retail franchisees throughout the United States.

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Retail Light-Vehicle Sales

May new-vehicle retail sales are projected to come in at 858,400 units, which represents a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 9.6 million units. The retail selling rate is nearly 1 million units higher than it was in May 2010, but has dropped sharply from the 2011 year-to-date average of 10.7 million units. Retail transactions are the most accurate measurement of true underlying consumer demand for new vehicles.

"Retail sales in May are being hit by several negative variables—specifically, high gas prices, lower incentive levels and some inventory shortages," said Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates. "As a result, the industry will likely be dealing with a lower sales pace at least through the summer selling season, putting pressure on the 2011 outlook."

Total Light-Vehicle Sales

Total light-vehicle sales in May are expected to come in at 1,073,000 units, which is 6 percent higher than in May 2010. Fleet sales are expected to be lower in May due to the inventory shortages and are projected to finish the month at 214,600 units, down 8 percent from May 2010.

J.D. Power and Associates U.S. Sales and SAAR Comparisons

May 2011(1)

April 2011

May 2010

New-vehicle retail sales

858,400 units

(10% higher than May 2010)(2)

935,664 units

847,138 units

Total vehicle sales

1,073,000 units

(6% higher than May 2010)

1,155,563 units

1,100,565 units

Retail SAAR

9.6 million units

11.0 million units

8.7 million units

Total SAAR

11.9 million units

13.2 million units

11.6 million units

(1) Figures cited for May 2011 are forecasted based on the first 11 selling days of the month.

(2) The percentage change is adjusted based on the number of selling days (24 days vs. 26 days one year ago).

Sales Outlook

The outlook for light vehicle sales in 2011 is beginning to bear the risk of the selling pace slowdown that is projected to occur during the next several months. J.D. Power has reduced the forecast for retail sales slightly to 10.6 million units from 10.7 million units. The forecast for total sales remain at 13 million units.

"Uncertainty is the driver of mounting risk to the forecast for light-vehicle sales in 2011, as gas prices hover at or above $4 per gallon and inventory is at very low levels in the small car segments," said John Humphrey, senior vice president of automotive operations at J.D. Power and Associates. "However, the pace of the recovery set in the beginning of the year is expected to resume during the second half of 2011."

North American Production

Year-to-date North American production is up 12 percent from the same timeframe in 2010. In 2011, 4.3 million light vehicles were produced during the first four months of the year, compared with 3.8 million units built during the same period in 2010. The earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear power plant crisis in Japan have caused numerous production disruptions thus far due to parts shortages for the Japanese manufacturers. This is expected to continue throughout the second quarter of 2011, with more than 400,000 units of production expected to be lost in the short term.

At 54 days' supply, the inventory level at the beginning of May was the same as it was at the beginning of April. However, several small cars and many models imported from Japan remain in very short supply. Inventory will continue to be under pressure during the next few months as manufacturers work to build up the low inventory levels.

The North American production forecast in 2011 has been reduced slightly, with volume now rounding down to 12.8 million units (from 12.9 million units). As the parts situation stabilizes and unaffected manufacturers increase production, most of the lost volume is expected to be recouped during the second half of 2011 at the topline level.

About J.D. Power and Associates

Headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is a global marketing information services company providing forecasting, performance improvement, social media and customer satisfaction insights and solutions. The company's quality and satisfaction measurements are based on responses from millions of consumers annually. For more information on car reviews and ratings, car insurance, health insurance, cell phone ratings, and more, please visit JDPower.com. J.D. Power and Associates is a business unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

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SOURCE J.D. Power and Associates