US new vehicle retail sales in March are expected to be 2% lower than a year ago on a selling-day-adjusted basis, the first time there has been a year-over-year decline in sales since August 2010, according to a monthly sales forecast developed jointly by JD Power and LMC Automotive.

Aided by two additional selling days – March 2016 has 27 selling days, compared with 25 in March 2015 – new vehicle retail sales on a pure volume basis this month are projected to reach 1,299,600 units, up from 1,226,596 in March 2015.

The seasonally adjusted annualised rate (SAAR) for retail sales in March 2016 is expected to reach 13.4 million units, down slightly from 13.5 million units in March 2015.

Total light vehicle sales in March are expected to reach 1,646,000, down 1% on a selling-day adjusted basis from 1,543,523 from a year ago, but the strongest total sales in March since 2000 (1,664,316).

The SAAR for total sales is projected at 17.0 million units in March 2016, down 0.1 million units from 17.1 million a year ago.

Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive, said: “Auto sales are not yet peaking and the outlook for the year remains robust, even with some retail softness and noise in March. In fact, year-to-date volume is still nearly 5% ahead of year-to-date March 2015, leaving some room for additional volatility and the expected slower growth rates later in the year.”

LMC Automotive’s forecast for 2016 is holding at 17.8 million units for total light vehicle sales and 14.5 million units for retail light-vehicle sales.

Kelly Blue Book forecasts that US vehicle sales will increase by 8% year-over-year to a total of 1.66 million units in March 2016, resulting in an estimated 17.2 million seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR). It said that two additional selling days will help this month’s volume totals as the SAAR will stay relatively consistent with recent months.

“The industry continues to maintain its momentum in March as we expect the highest volume of any month in more than 10 years,” said Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book.  “However, we continue to follow indicators that demand for new cars is weakening, while there is increased incentive spending and an increasing share of fleet sales.”

KBB says the 1.66 million units projected for March will bring the first quarter total to 4.15 million, which is up 5 percent year-over-year, making this the second highest first quarter on record, surpassed only by Q1 2000.  This also could be the highest March sales total since 2000, when sales also hit 1.66 million units, and the highest volume total of any month since July 2005.

Fiat Chrysler to have a good month

KBB forecasts that Fiat Chrysler could have the best month of all major manufacturers, with double-digit growth expected in March. The largest year-over-year improvements will be from Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans, which were low on inventory at this time last year.  The Jeep brand also should post another record in March with year-over-year strength headlined by the Renegade. 

Kelley Blue Book also anticipates American Honda will report double-digit growth in March, led by the new Civic.  In addition, the new HR-V continues to perform well and collect industry awards, it says. Meanwhile, the Honda Pilot is one of the fastest selling models this month, averaging just 18 days in dealer inventory, according to KBB.