Auto sales fall to slowest pace since GM, Chrysler bankruptcies

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Sales of new cars and trucks in the U.S. have cooled to the slowest pace in more than three years even as automakers increase spending on incentives.

The average number of days needed to sell new vehicles rose to 64 at the end of February, the most since August 2009, Bloomberg Industries said in a report today. Carmakers have also raised incentives to 7.8 percent of a vehicle’s price to lure buyers, the highest ratio since 2011, analyst Kevin Tynan wrote in the note. Incentives increased more than 8 percent in both January and February, he said.

Vehicle sales have remained a bright spot for the U.S., expanding more than 10 percent annually since 2010, the year after bankruptcies for the former General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC. Growth is slowing this year, with total light- vehicle sales rising 3.7 percent in February, according to Autodata Corp.

Still, it’s premature to be concerned as the pace of growth is returning to pre-recession levels, said Jessica Caldwell, industry analyst for Edmunds.com.

“Even though it’s creeping up a bit, it doesn’t start to raise eyebrows at this point,” she said. “The number of days needed for a sale have risen, but it’s stabilized in the low 60s.”

Brands seeing some of the biggest increases in average numbers of days needed to sell their vehicles include Chrysler, GM’s Chevrolet and GMC brands and Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln line, said Caldwell, who’s based in Santa Monica, California.

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