(Reuters) - Major automakers on Monday reported better-than-expected U.S. new vehicle sales for May, posting the first monthly increase for 2019 as a strong economy and upbeat consumer sentiment boosted demand.
U.S. new vehicle sales through April had fallen 3 percent, fueling expectations of a weaker year for automakers in 2019 than last year, and May sales were expected to remain weak.
Concerns of a downturn have been further heightened by recent threats from U.S. President Donald Trump that he will impose new tariffs on all Mexican imports.
Cox Automotive analyst Charlie Chesbrough said the May sales figures were a “complete reversal from a slow April,” adding that “there’s no denying many of the economic indicators we follow support strong sales,” including high consumer confidence, stabilizing interest rates and low unemployment.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA), reported a 2.1% rise in sales as demand for both light- and heavy-duty pickup trucks remained strong. The Ram pickup, a major profit-driver for FCA, had a 33 percent gain in sales versus May 2018.
FCA and General Motors Co have both launched redesigned pickup trucks. Ford Motor Co has for decades built the single best-selling truck brand with its F-Series trucks, with the Chevy brand a solid No. 2 and Ram a distant third. But in the first quarter of this year, Ram brand trucks outsold Chevrolet-brand trucks.
Both GM and Ford report sales quarterly instead of on a monthly basis.
Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp posted a 3.2% sales increase, boosted by strong demand for its Camry sedans.
Nissan Motor Co Ltd said its sales rose 0.1%, driven by SUV and truck sales. The Japanese automaker’s sales in the first fourth months of the year had fallen more than the industry average. Nissan has been heavily reliant on consumer discounts and low-margin fleet sales to boost U.S. demand, but its market share has dropped since 2016.
Hyundai Motor Co reported a 2% increase in sales, driven by strong results for its SUV models.
Honda Motor Co Ltd reported a 4.9% drop in sales for May, driven by declining sedan sales.
Passenger car sales have fallen steadily as Americans abandon sedans in favor of larger, more comfortable pickup trucks and SUVs, which are also far more profitable for automakers.
U.S. auto sales are expected to be about 16.9 million units in 2019, a 2.5% fall from 2018, according to industry consultants J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.
Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Dan Grebler