U.S. light-vehicle sales expected to stagnate with pent-up demand ‘quickly disappearing’

U.S. light-vehicle sales remain in lower gear as the third quarter winds down, while slumping consumer sentiment threatens a further downshift.

Cox Automotive on Wednesday cut its full-year new-vehicle sales outlook to 13.7 million — down more than 9 percent from 2021 and the lowest level in a decade.

It’s the third time this year Cox has lowered its sales forecast, which initially stood at 16 million vehicles.

Most automakers are expected to release third-quarter U.S. sales results on Monday and Tuesday.

Charlie Chesbrough, Cox Automotive senior economist, said COVID-related production disruptions and the war in Ukraine scuttled the anticipated improvement in inventories at the start of the year.

Now the industry faces a new wrinkle.

“It seems likely that much of the pent-up demand from limited supply is quickly disappearing as high interest rates eat away at vehicle buyers’ willingness and ability to purchase,” Chesbrough said.

S&P Global Mobility analysts expect U.S. light-vehicle sales to be limited to 1.1 million units this month, with the seasonally adjusted annualized rate set to come in at 13.4 million, up from 12.38 million in September 2021, but well below the 15 million sales level the industry considers ideal and the 17 million sales set from 2015 to 2019.

J.D. Power and LMC Automotive project total new-vehicle sales in September will reach 1,120,279 units, up 12 percent from a year ago.

“While holiday promotions were nearly nonexistent [this month], modest improvements in vehicle production allowed manufacturers to tap pent-up consumer demand,” said J.D. Power data and analytics division chief Thomas King in a statement.

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