Auto sales: Signs the worst is over

J.D. Power expects April auto sales to tumble 33%, in line with a recent trend, but sees an uptick in the second half of 2009.

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By Ben Rooney, staff writer

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NEW YORK ( -- Auto sales will remain at 30-year lows in April, according to a report released Thursday, but an industry group sees signs the market is stabilizing.

Retail sales of new vehicles are on track to suffer a 33% decline in April over the same period a year ago, according to J.D. Power and Associates, which gathers real-time transaction data from more than 10,000 dealerships across the United States.

April retail sales are projected to total 668,000 units, which translates to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 7.8 million.

While that would represent a 33% drop versus April of 2008, 7.8 million would be in line with the sales trend over the last two months, the report said. The retail sales rate was 7.9 million in March and 7.7 million in February.

Total industry sales, which includes fleet sales, are projected to be 853,000 in April, which represents an annual sales rate of 9.7 million. Last month, the total industry rate was 9.86 million, down 37% year over year, according to sales tracker Autodata.

"Industry sales are starting to show signs of stability -- albeit at levels near 30-year lows," said Gary Dilts, senior vice president of global automotive operations at J.D. Power, in a statement.

J.D. Power said it expects "a modest increase" in auto sales over the next few months. For the full year, the group projects the retail sales rate to total 8.5 million.

The long-term outlook is even more optimistic. As the economy recovers, J.D. Power estimates potential growth in vehicle demand of 20 million units during the next five years.

"We expect market conditions to slowly improve during the remainder of 2009, which will lead us back to a solid industry with improved long-term fundamental growth," said Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power.

The report came after AutoNation (AN, Fortune 500), the country's largest car dealer chain, said it earned a profit in the first quarter of 2009 and expects to see improved sales in the second half of the year. Sales declined 43% in the quarter.  To top of page

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