© . FILE PHOTO: New Ford Ranger pickup trucks are shown for sale in Carlsbad, California, US, Sept. 23, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
By Joseph White DETROIT () – Major automakers are expected to report on Friday that US auto and light truck sales have fallen sharply in the first quarter compared to a year ago, with more uncertainty ahead due to parts shortages , high fuel prices and rising interest rates . JD Power and LMC Automotive forecast US auto and light truck sales to fall 18% in January-March from a year ago, and forecast annualized sales pace to fall to 12.7 million vehicles for March , compared to 17.8 million a year ago. Cox Automotive said earlier this week that first quarter auto sales in the US would be the weakest in a decade. Tesla (NASDAQ:) Inc could break the downtrend. The world’s most valuable automaker is expected to report its first-quarter deliveries as early as Friday, and Wall Street had expected an improvement from its fourth-quarter figure of 308,650 vehicles. However, Tesla had to halt production at its Shanghai factory this week to comply with the COVID lockdowns. Two years after the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns derailed the US economy, automakers are still trying to find their balance. The spike in petrol prices, propelled by the war in Ukraine, and the worst inflation in 40 years have shaken consumer confidence. Rising rates, coupled with high pump prices, have often been the harbingers of recessions for the auto industry in the past. Consumer intentions to buy a new or used car in the next six months fell for the second straight month in March, and used vehicles are at their lowest level in 15 months, according to a survey released this week. the Conference Board has been released . Semiconductor shortages and other supply chain bottlenecks have left U.S. dealers short on many popular vehicles. At the same time, the job market is strong and demand for new trucks and SUVs, as well as electric vehicles, is so strong that average vehicle prices are still near record highs of about $47,000, Cox Automotive analysts said this week. Automakers earlier this year predicted that sales and production would increase as supply chain bottlenecks ease over the course of the year. The conflict in Ukraine and a spate of COVID cases in China have left some analysts wondering how much improvement automakers can deliver.