US auto sales falling in March: JD Power, LMC Automotive

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(Reuters) - U.S. auto sales are expected to drop about 2.1 percent in March from a year earlier, partly due to bad weather, mixed economic data and lower tax refunds, according to industry consultants J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.

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The consultancies expect total U.S. vehicle sales of about 1.56 million units in March.

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Retail sales are expected to touch 1,195,000 units in March, a 3.4 percent decline from a year earlier, the consultancies said on Tuesday.

The first-quarter sales are off to its slowest start since 2013, according to the industry consultants, who estimate retail sales in the quarter to be about 2.94 million vehicles - a decline of 4.9 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

"This is the first time in six years that Q1 sales will fall short of 3 million units. While the volume story could be better, there is remarkable growth in transaction prices, with records being set monthly," Thomas King, senior vice-president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power, said.

However, average transaction price is on pace to reach $33,319, the highest ever for the first quarter and an increase of over $1,000 compared to the same period a year ago.

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LMC Automotive also forecast total light-vehicle sales of 16.9 million units this year, a 2.2 percent fall from 2018.

Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve said U.S. manufacturing output fell for a second straight month in February, held down by decline in motor vehicles and parts output that edged down 0.1 percent in February, after falling 7.6 percent in January.

(Reporting by Rachit Vats in Bengaluru and Nick Carey in Detroit; Editing by James Emmanuel)