U.S. June auto sales seen up 2.5 percent: J.D. Power and LMC

DETROIT (Reuters) - U.S. auto sales in June likely rose 2.5 percent from the same month in 2017 as consumers continued to prefer expensive pickup trucks, SUVs and crossovers over passenger cars although discounts on new vehicles remain high, industry consultants J.D. Power and LMC Automotive said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: New cars are shown for sale at a Chevrolet dealership in National City, California, U.S. on June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

But the positive sales month for major automakers was overshadowed by trade war concerns.

“Tariff threats remain at center stage,” LMC head of global vehicle forecasts Jeff Schuster said in a statement. “A trade war involving vehicles would be devastating to sales volume in the United States and other key markets.”

Last week Germany's Daimler DAIGn.DE cut its 2018 profit forecast, saying import tariffs on cars exported from the United States to China would hurt Mercedes-Benz sales.

New vehicle prices remained high during June. The average transaction for the first half of 2018 should hit $32,221, surpassing the previous record of $31,397 in 2017, the consultancies said.

June will be the second consecutive month of rising sales. Despite those gains, the first half of the year should be the weakest for the U.S. auto industry since 2014.

June U.S. new vehicle sales will likely be about 1.508 million units, up from 1.472 million units a year earlier, the consultancies said.

The forecast was based on the first 14 selling days of June. Automakers, including Ford Motor Co F.N and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV FCHA.MIFCAU.N, will release June U.S. sales results on July 3.

No. 1 U.S. automaker General Motors Co GM.N will issue its first quarterly sales report after saying in April it would stop reporting monthly U.S. sales.

U.S. new vehicle sales fell 2 percent in 2017 to 17.23 million units after hitting a record high in 2016.

Sales are expected to drop further in 2018 as interest rates rise and more late-model used cars return to dealer lots to compete with new ones.

LMC maintained its full-year 2018 U.S. new vehicle sales forecast of 17.1 million units.

The seasonally adjusted annualized rate of sales for June will be 16.9 million vehicles, up more than 1 percent from 16.7 million units in June 2017, the consultancies said.

Retail sales to consumers, excluding lower-margin fleet sales to rental agencies, businesses and government, were set to increase by more than 2 percent in June.

Through the first six months of the year consumer discounts hit $3,892, up $118 from the same period in 2017.

Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by Phil Berlowitz