U.S. sales of new cars and trucks showed declines in July as automakers cut back on low-profit rental car sales and consumers waited for Labor Day deals.
July was likely the seventh straight month of lower sales. Analysts have been predicting lower U.S. sales this year as demand levels out after an unprecedented seven straight years of growth.
General Motors said its sales fell 15 percent in July, while Ford's sales were down 7.5 percent. Both companies cut sales to rental and corporate fleets. Fiat Chrysler's sales were down 10 percent. Volkswagen's sales were down 5.8 percent, while Nissan's sales fell 3 percent. Honda's sales were down 1.2 percent.
At least two automakers bucked the trend. Toyota's sales rose 3.6 percent while Subaru's were up 7 percent.
U.S. new vehicle sales hit a record 17.55 million last year. July's pace would put annual sales at 16.5 or 16.6 million, said Alec Gutierrez, a senior market analyst with the car shopping site Kelley Blue Book. That was lower than he expected, but not enough to change his full-year forecast of 17.1 million sales, he said.
Mark LaNeve, Ford Motor Co.'s U.S. sales chief, said automakers have been preparing for a dip in U.S. sales, but July was likely a blip and not an acceleration of that trend. He said GM's decision to cut sales to rental-car fleets by 81 percent — or 11,200 vehicles — was a big factor. Ford also cut fleet sales by 26 percent, and it had to stop sales of its Transit commercial van for a few weeks while it performed a recall.
"We're still operating at a very high level," said Mark LaNeve, Ford Motor Co.'s U.S. sales chief.
Automakers continue to see healthy profits thanks to consumers' preference for SUVs. Car shopping site Edmunds.com said the average price paid for a new vehicle in July was $34,558, 2 percent higher than the same month a year ago. GM said sales of its recently updated GMC Acadia SUV jumped 30 percent, while Toyota said sales of its RAV4 SUV rose 36 percent to 41,804, a monthly record.
But car sales are plummeting, the victim of low gas prices and changing tastes. Sales of the Ford Fusion midsize sedan dropped 42 percent, while sales of the Chevrolet Spark subcompact fell a whopping 82 percent.
Automakers ramped up deals in July, a trend that's expected to continue for the rest of the summer as carmakers make way for 2018 models on their lots. Average interest rates on new-vehicle loans fell to a six-month low of 4.77 percent in July as more brands offered zero-percent financing deals, Edmunds said. Toyota, for example, was offering zero-percent financing for 72 months on a 2017 Toyota Camry sedan as the 2018 Camry arrived in dealerships.
Gutierrez said buyers can expect incentives to creep up by $200 or so per car in August and September, when automakers typically offer model-year closeout offers and Labor Day sales.
Automakers said Tuesday:
— General Motors Co. said its sales fell 15.4 percent to 226,107. The automaker saw double-digit percent declines at GMC, Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick. Sales of GM's best seller, the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, dropped 15 percent.
— Toyota Motor Corp.'s sales rose 3.6 percent to 222,057. Toyota and Lexus trucks and SUVs climbed 17 percent but cars struggled. Sales of the Toyota Prius hybrid fell 26 percent.
— Ford Motor Co. said its sales dropped 7.5 percent to 200,212. Ford's SUV sales were up 2 percent but car sales dropped 19 percent. Sales of Ford's best seller, the F-Series pickup, rose 5.8 percent.
— Fiat Chrysler's sales fell 10 percent to 161,477. Its Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat brands all saw declines, but Alfa Romeo sales were up thanks to the new Giulia sedan. Ram truck sales were flat.
— Honda Motor Co.'s sales slid 1.2 percent to 150,980. Honda saw the reverse of most automakers: Its Civic small car saw sales rise 11 percent while sales of the CR-V SUV fell 12 percent despite a recent redesign. Acura luxury sales were up 4 percent.
— Nissan Motor Co.'s sales fell 3.2 percent to 128,295. Sales of Nissan's redesigned Titan pickup truck more than tripled, and Infiniti luxury brand sales were up. But the company's car sales dropped 11 percent.
— Subaru brand sales gained 6.9 percent to 55,703. Subaru's best-seller, the Outback SUV, was up 20 percent.
— Volkswagen brand sales fell 5.8 percent to 27,091 as dealers sold off older Tiguan SUVs and started getting 2018 models on their lots. Sales of the Golf SportWagen were up 87 percent, but that wasn't enough to offset falling car sales.