The claims just keep coming that President Trump’s threatened auto tariffs will cause vehicle makers to boost the prices paid by American consumers per vehicle by thousands of dollars. So does the evidence that such claims are “horse hockey” – to quote a memorable euphemism for “baloney” recently used by CNBC’s Rick Santelli (in a similar context).
As I noted in a post last Wednesday, this alarmism flies in the face of recent U.S. auto sales trends – which recently have been weak enough to force the companies to offer deep discounts to prop up their numbers and try to keep market share. As I’ve also noted, those trafficking in price hike fears either know nothing about business, or are trying to fool their audiences. For although producers’ costs of course influence consumer prices, the latter’s main determinant is what the former believe the market will bear. To believe otherwise is to believe that companies aren’t striving to maximize revenues and profits wherever and whenever possible. And by extension, it’s logically to believe that, although auto makers don’t believe their customers will pay those higher prices today, they’ll change their tunes as soon as vehicles become much more expensive.
Which brings us to the newest evidence – yesterday’s data on U.S. auto sales for June and for the first half of the year. Overall, they were up, and up nicely (especially for last month, when they rose year-on-year). But as always, you need to look under the hood. (Couldn’t resist!) And that’s when you encounter vital contrarian details provided by analysts at Cox Automotive.
According to the Associated Press’ coverage of their conclusions, the increases were driven by “low-profit sales to fleet buyers such as rental car companies, and retail sales to individual buyers were propped up by rising incentives such as rebates and subsidized leases.”
Indeed, said observed one Cox consultant, “Retail sales have been flat, and even those sales have been supported by incentives being up 6 percent.”
Does this sound like a market where big, sudden price increases have much chance of sticking? If you agree, I’d be happy to show you a bridge in Brooklyn that’s available for a song. And if you’re parroting this line, chances are you’d be a great used car salesman.