DETROIT — July continued the downturn for automakers.
A lack of discounts and lingering shortages of Japanese cars kept many buyers away, automakers said Tuesday as they announced monthly sales figures. Americans also worried about the economy.
"There's definitely some weakness kind of looming out there," said Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates.
Sales started strong this year but have slowed as the economy's growth faltered and Japan's earthquake caused shortages of popular models sold by Honda and Toyota. The unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent earlier this summer, the highest level this year, and consumer confidence is shaky.
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But July wasn't a total loss. Sales of compact cars and newer, more fuel-efficient SUVs rose. Trucks sales were down, however, hurt by continuing weakness in construction.
Buyers, who are accustomed to summertime discounts, are also concerned about high prices. Schuster said a standoff could be brewing between people waiting for deals and automakers reluctant to give them. Carmakers are keeping prices high because of rising steel costs and lingering shortages of some vehicles and parts.
Automakers spent an average of $2,418 per vehicle on incentives, down 15 percent from last July, according to car pricing site TrueCar.com.
Don Johnson, GM vice president of sales, predicted that discounts would rise in the second half. Japanese cars are re-entering the market as their factories come back on line. That could boost industry sales because many people are waiting for those cars. Also, sales could get a lift from people who are driving older cars and finally need to replace them.
"The underlying fundamentals are there to get back on track with that slow, steady growth that we saw earlier in the year," Johnson said.