By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT (Reuters) - U.S. July auto sales likely rose 2.4 percent from a year earlier, but full-year sales will not match last year's record, forecasters J.D. Power and LMC Automotive said on Friday.
LMC now expects that 17.4 million new vehicles will be sold in all of 2016, down 0.1 percent from 2015. It would be the first annual decline in U.S auto sales since 2009.
On Thursday, Ford Motor Co <F.N> became the first major automaker to declare that the long U.S. auto market recovery was at an end.
- PHOTOS: Massachusetts residents make first retail marijuana purchases 12 Pictures
- Prepare for GoT season 8 with this Game of Thrones whisky 8 Pictures
Brian Johnson, auto industry analyst at Barclays, earlier this month changed his outlook for the U.S. auto market from "plateau" to "eroding plateau."
Johnson told Reuters that Ford's assessment of a weakening market was important for market observers.
"Ford acknowledged for the first time many of the pressures we have been talking about for the past few weeks," Johnson said. "There's a big difference between analysts and writers saying this market is poised to get softer, and hearing it from one of the largest players in that market."
Backing out of medium and heavy trucks to include only vehicles in the LMC forecast, the midpoint of Ford's new outlook would be about 17.3 million vehicles, weaker than LMC's prediction.
While their annual forecast is getting more bearish, J.D. Power and LMC say July will be extremely strong, with a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of sales of 18.1 million vehicles.
Johnson said July was an example of a strong month amid a weakening trend.
"This is proving to be a dynamic year in terms of automotive demand volatility," said Jeff Schuster, LMC forecaster.
LMC was the most bullish among a group of analysts that included Barclays, RBC Capital, Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book, WardsAuto and TrueCar, which forecast July U.S. sales on an annualized basis in a range from 17.5 million to 17.8 million vehicles.
On average, the forecasters said the four biggest automakers will see little change in their sales from a year ago: General Motors Co <GM.N>, down 1.3 percent; Ford down 1 percent; Toyota down 2.7 percent; and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV <FCHA.MI> <FCAU.N> up 1 percent, using the updated year-ago sales figures for FCA.
FCA restated its monthly auto sales dating to the start of 2011 earlier this week.
J.D. Power said incentive spending by automakers rose in July to an average of $3,680 per vehicle, the highest for any month this year.
Major automakers will report U.S. July sales on Tuesday.
(This version of the story corrects J.D. Power incentive per vehicle estimate to $3,680 per vehicle from $30,601 in penultimate paragraph)
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)