DETROIT (Reuters) - WardsAuto on Thursday forecast that December U.S. auto sales would be down slightly from a year ago, and show a seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate of 17.7 million vehicles.
WardsAuto, a publication and industry consultant, said sales for December will fall about 0.46 percent from a year earlier, at 1.625 million vehicles.
The forecast would bring a new annual sales record of about 17.41 million vehicles, beating 2015's mark of 17.39 million vehicles reported by WardsAuto.
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Automakers report December U.S. sales on Jan. 3.
Auto sales are an early snapshot of U.S. consumer spending. Earlier on Thursday, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that consumer spending increased modestly in November as household incomes failed to rise for the first time in nine months, suggesting economic growth slowed in the fourth quarter.
Also earlier Thursday, auto industry consultancies J.D. Power and LMC Automotive forecast that December U.S. auto sales would fall about 2 percent, and that 2017 sales would be robust at between 17.4 million to 17.5 million.
LMC Automotive and J.D. Power agreed with WardsAuto that 2016 will narrowly top last year's record high, but said it will be the seventh and final year of growth since the 2008-2009 recession. LMC and J.D. Power said 2017 sales would remain strong but fall a fraction of a percentage point from this year.
Each of the three biggest U.S. automakers, General Motors Co <GM.N>, Ford Motor Co <F.N> and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles <FCHA.MI><FCAU.N> recently announced production cuts for light-selling vehicles, mainly sedans. Consumers have shifted toward SUVs and pickup trucks and away from sedans at a greater rate than the automakers had planned.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by G Crosse and JS Benkoe)