WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — Although new-vehicle retail sales in July are projected to decrease 19 percent from July 2008, this marks an improvement in year-over-year declines observed for the first half of 2009, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

Sales for the first half of 2009 are down 32 percent from the same period in 2008.

Based on the first 15 selling days of the month, new-vehicle retail sales for the month of July are expected to come in at 780,500 units, which represent a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 8.2 million units. While July’s selling rate is down by 4 percent compared with June, this pace remains consistent with the first half of 2009.

Although July retail sales have declined compared with June, fleet sales have improved slightly after several months of weakness and production cuts. As a result, the July SAAR for total vehicle sales increases to 10 million units.

J.D. Power and Associates U.S. Sales and SAAR Comparisons – July 2009

(1. Figures cited for July 2009 are forecasted numbers based on the first 15 selling days of the month.)

“Retail sales for 2009 are expected to be only incrementally affected by the Cash for Clunkers program, as many consumers don’t understand the specifics of the program, and if they do, they often find they don’t qualify for the incentive,” said

Gary Dilts, senior vice president of global automotive operations at J.D. Power and Associates. “However, there is potential for increased sales in the short term as a result of select OEMs boosting incentives to match the program.”

To date in July, the Cash for Clunkers program appears to be affecting segment mix, particularly in an environment with gas prices pulling back from recent increases in June. Retail market share for compact vehicles has increased to 39 percent, up approximately 2.5 percentage points from June. The shares for midsize and large vehicles have decreased, with the exception of large pickups, which are up by 0.5 percentage point. This increase in large-pickup share can be attributed to the improved fuel economy of today’s pickups, compared with those being traded in.

J.D. Power and Associates maintains its forecasts for 2009 at 8.3 million units for retail sales and 10.0 million units for total sales. The current sales trend suggests the likelihood of a flattened recovery in the second half of the year.

“Given a sputtering but improving economy, the Cash for Clunkers program and manufacturer incentives, it appears that consumers are taking a wait-and-see approach,” said Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates. “Favorable responses from consumers to these factors will be critical to market recovery in the second half of 2009.”