Drivers in the United States purchased fewer new vehicles in 2019 than in prior years but spent more money to buy them.
Research firms project 2019 U.S. automotive sales declined a few percent points from 2018 to approximately 17 million vehicles sold last year. This slight drop is considered healthy and marks the lowest overall sales since 16.5 million vehicles were purchased in 2014.
“Despite a lot of noise and some uncertainty with light vehicle sales, 2019 has turned out to be a strong year,” Jeff Schuster, LMC Automotive president of the Americas and global vehicle forecasts, said in a release.
J.D. Power estimates American consumers spent $462 billion on new cars and trucks in 2019, an industry record. Overall spending exceeded $460 billion.
General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota Motor are will report December and year-end U.S. vehicle sales on Friday. Ford Motor is scheduled to report on Monday.
Despite last year’s robust sales, experts caution that the domestic auto industry shows signs of potential weakness.
Jonathan Smoke, chief economist of Cox Automotive, cited high non-housing debt, diminished retail spending, and rising defaults all as concerns.
“Retail spending growth began to slow as we entered the fourth quarter,” he said “Collectively these trends suggest that the consumer may not be capable of single-handedly carrying the economy in 2020, which is why we are expecting another decline in new-vehicle sales.”
December 2019 automotive sales are expected to have fallen 3.2% compared with December 2018.
Global vehicle sales are expected to fall by about 3.1 million in 2019 — the steepest year-over-year drop since the Great Recession a decade ago.
J.D. Power/LMC Automotive expect 16.8 million U.S. auto sales in 2020. Cox Automotive’s forecast is just below that projection at 16.7 million. Edmunds anticipates sales of 17.1 million for the new year.