April 1 (UPI) -- Auto sales in the United States for the first quarter of 2019 indicate the worst downturn the market has seen in five years, industry monitor J.D. Power and Associates said Monday.
The firm said Americans bought nearly 17 million vehicles over the first three months -- the smallest number since the fourth quarter of 2014. Experts said several factors affected the trend, including a surge of new purchases in recent years and higher interest rates.
"I think we're starting to see a slowdown," J.D. Power CEO Dave Habiger told CNBC.
Habiger said demand for crossover vehicles, sport-utility vehicles and pickups remain strong enough to keep the market healthy.
"There's more confidence in 2019 than the numbers suggest," he added.
Nearly half of all new vehicles sold this year have been utility vehicles -- a 2 percent increase over 2018.
Car sales website Edmunds.com said last month the price of new cars appears to be driving buyers into the used car market.
The price of an average new car reached more than $36,000 in February -- a 29 percent increase from the $28,000 10 years ago.