DETROIT (AP) — U.S. car buyers are tapping the brakes.
May is usually one of the strongest months of the year for the U.S. auto industry, as Americans buy cars ahead of summer road trips. But last month, U.S. auto sales were expected to drop 6 percent to 1.53 million cars and trucks, according to car shopping site Kelley Blue Book.
General Motors Co.’s sales fell 18 percent from last May, while Ford Motor Co.’s were down 6 percent. Fiat Chrysler’s sales were up just 1 percent. Other automakers report sales later Wednesday.
The declines could be a sign that U.S. auto sales are finally reaching a plateau after six straight years of growth — a streak not seen since the 1920s. Sales rose 6 percent between 2014 and 2015 but were only up 3 percent through April of this year.
Flattening sales could be good for consumers, at least in the short term. Automakers are offering more discounts in order to keep growing their U.S. market share. Car-buying site TrueCar.com estimated that incentive spending rose 7 percent in May to average of $3,034 per vehicle.
But those discounts can hurt resale values and automakers’ profits, so companies have to be careful as they deal with a dip in demand.
Results from early in May were enough for LMC Automotive, a forecasting firm, to lower its forecast for the full year. LMC said it now expects total U.S. sales of 17.7 million vehicles this year, down from its previous target of 17.8 million.
But even 17.7 million vehicles would break the record of 17.5 million that was set last year. So even if sales plateau, they remain at very high levels.
GM’s sales dropped 18 percent from last May to 240,450 vehicles. Its Chevrolet and Buick brands saw the biggest declines; sales of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, its best-seller, were down 13 percent. GM blamed tight supplies of new products, including the Chevrolet Cruze small car, as well as planned reductions in sales to rental car fleets. GM’s rental car sales were down 49 percent.
Ford said its F-Series pickup sales rose 9 percent and its luxury Lincoln brand saw a 7-percent sales increase. But that couldn’t make up for a 26-percent decline in car sales. Ford’s SUV sales were flat. Ford’s overall sales dropped 6 percent to 235,997.
Fiat Chrysler’s sales rose 1 percent to just over 204,000 vehicles, its best May in 11 years. The all-SUV Jeep brand led the way with sales up 14 percent. But Chrysler brand sales fell 19 percent as car sales faltered, and the Dodge brand dropped 5 percent. Ram pickup sales fell 3 percent.