Automakers’ Downturn Slows

You know times are tough for automakers when it’s good news that year-to-year retail sales of new vehicles are down a mere 36 percent.

That’s the latest reading of the market from J.D. Power and Associates, based on the first 14 days of this month. The research firm points to such data as an indication that “the rate of decline in new-vehicle retail sales has slowed in May.” And, indeed, unit sales were actually up 9 percent from those of the previous month.

Still, that uptick from April’s woeful figures was not enough to stave off a downward revision in the firm’s forecast for total new-vehicle sales (including fleet as well as retail purchases) in the U.S. this year. J.D. Power now predicts the number will come in at 10 million units, “400,000 units fewer than previously forecast.”

With sales improving in some European and Asian markets (notably Germany and China), J.D. Power has revised its forecast for global light-vehicle sales slightly upwards. The firm now puts the anticipated 2009 total at 58.6 million units, vs. its March prediction of 57.5 million.

Meanwhile, the peril (or reality) of bankruptcy for U.S. automakers has spilled over somewhat to Americans’ sense of the survivability of major Asian auto exporters. While large majorities of respondents believe Asia’s big automakers will still be around five years from now, those opinions were less than unanimous in polling earlier this month by BIGresearch.

Eighty-five percent of that survey’s respondents said they’re confident or very confident that Toyota will still be in business in five years; 84 percent said the same about Honda. The figures were somewhat lower for Nissan (78 percent) and Hyundai (70 percent).