COVID-19 Fallout: U.S. Auto Sales Crater in Q1

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy
covid 19 fallout u s auto sales crater in q1

Surprising exactly no one, sales numbers for the automotive industry in this country are grim. With stay-at-home edicts being encouraged in most states and various social distancing measures in place to help temper the spread of COVID-19, it’s understandable that a limited numbers of customers are darkening the doors of the few showrooms that remain open.

The first two months of this year were reasonably robust, so the negative numbers can almost entirely be chalked up to March’s challenging conditions (to put it mildly). As a programming note, the brands of Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover, and Mercedes-Benz won’t we releasing their numbers until later in the month. This explains the holes in our chart.

It’s worth noting at this time that several manufacturers have jumped on board the pandemic response efforts and pivoted their production facilities to make medical equipment. This is no small feat. Others have donated equipment to healthcare providers. For these actions, we applaud them all.

As the situation remains quite fluid, some dealers remain open while others have shuttered their doors for now.

“Many have taken extraordinary steps, ranging from enhanced sanitizing protocols for their showrooms to the offer of home delivery and other concierge services to keep consumers safe,” said U.S. Head of Sales Jeff Kommor. “I applaud all of them for their efforts.”

General Motors noted that it has enabled OnStar Crisis Assist services for all connected vehicle owners, as well as complimentary in-vehicle data for all Wi-Fi-equipped vehicles.

In terms of raw numbers — well, there you have it. The picture is bleak and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. As an example, Fiat Chrysler’s Q1 U.S. sales were 446,768 vehicles compared with 498,425 for the same period a year earlier. Retail sales were 306,898 vehicles for the quarter, meaning fleet accounted for 31 percent of total sales. You can draw your own conclusions there.

Ram pickups were actually up 7 percent in Q1, indicating they must have been on a tear for the first two months of this year. One thing that sticks out like a sore thumb at FCA is that brand’s namesake. Fiat itself, as an entire brand, sold less as a whole than any other individual vehicle in the company save for the rare-as-hen’s teeth Alfa 4C.

By the way, many automakers have followed Ford’s lead and switched to a quarterly reporting system. This clarifies why our chart only shows year-to-date numbers and no month-over-month results. Still, there are a few that do choose to shine a light on their monthly efforts.

Hyundai, for example, was down in March by 49 percent compared to the same time frame one year ago. Given world events, this is not unexpected. However, thanks to their reporting transparency, we can see that they grew 11 percent in January and February combined. Year-to-date, taking March into account, they’re down 11 percent overall. Interestingly, and despite the American public’s appetite for crossovers, the Elantra remains its best-selling model. Note, however, that it has a YTD lead of about 2,000 units over the Tucson compared to an 8,000-unit advantage this time last year.

Talking heads are saying industry sales as a whole rose 4 percent in the first two months of this year. Since then, especially in major cities where stay-at-home orders have been issued, new-vehicle sales typically dropped 80 percent within a few days, according to the boffins at J.D. Power and Associates. At this rate, the industry will be fortunate to crack 11 million units for the entirety of 2020. For comparison, the market bottomed out at something near 10 mil during the dark days of 2009.

We can only guess what April will bring. Stay safe, everyone.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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2 of 28 comments
  • Jeff S Jeff S on Apr 03, 2020

    20k off of an F350 that is an unbelievable deal. If you are still working that might be a buy for you if you are planning on getting one in the next few years. I saw a new 2020 Colorado WT for less than 17k which is just above the base model.

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Apr 03, 2020

    • Kia - "More Powerful Than COVID-19"© (sales *up* 1%) • Anything perceived as a potential Zombie Apocalypse Response Vehicle (ZARC™) is doing relatively better (see Ram et al.).

  • TheEndlessEnigma I don't not like it.
  • El scotto Oh Lordy, when you rent a Tesla from Hertz it shows where there are chargers. Most of your hotels that cater to business travelers have chargers. You can also tactfully ask your client if they have chargers available.Just trying to show that charging doesn't take that much thought before the usual herper-derpers arrive and comment.
  • El scotto Will this die a dignified and somber death? Sadly I predict a massive collision between greed, venality, and stupidity to occur. Huge Additional Dealer Markups (ADM)? Of course. Flippers will pay the ADM. Those paying the flippers over the ADM will smugly confirm "they know what they've got". The last owner not realizing that in 20 years their target "Last V-8 Camaro" audience will be between 70 and Dead.Mid-engine Corvette? Just get a Porsche or a Lotus and be done with it. Whatever LS they put in the Camaro might be seen in Silverados which will be sold at a higher profit.Hemi-powered Challengers and Chargers are dead. Well, OK after 18, 484 special editions. Hemi-powered Rams? Not too many buy a second one.Ford will double down on stupidity by raising MSRPs on every Mustang and Ford dealers will ask serious money for a non-serious car. Once Mustangs get expensive enough people will drive performance Japanese and German iron and like it. Three truly sad and ignoble deaths for cars once coveted by the jeans jacket, domestic beer, and Aerosmith t-shirts set.
  • CoastieLenn So the Camaro is getting the axe, the Challenger is belly up, the Charger is also fading out of existence. Maaaaan Michigan better have a game plan on how to inject some soul back into the American carscape. The Mustang and Corvette can't do it on their own. Dark times we're living in, bro's. How long do you think it'll be before the US starts to backpedal on our EV mandates now that the EU has rolled back their ICE bans with synthetic fuel usage?
  • Duke Woolworth We have old school Chevrolet Bolts, only feasible to charge at home because they are so slow. Travel? Fly or rent luxury.