Recovery Can Be a Rocky Road; Sales Stagnate in U.S.

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

It could be a blip, a fluke, but it could also become the norm as consumer buying habits struggle to return to something approaching normal. Via data from J.D. Power, we can see that U.S. auto sales failed to make any headway in the week ending May 17th, ending a six-week climb out the lockdown sales pit.

Finding a guilty party on which to pin the result is proving difficult.

“Leveling of sales performance was exhibited across markets,” J.D. Power noted in its weekly roundup of U.S. auto sales, adding that the cause of the leveling off in consumer activity “varied.”

A linear return to normal was probably too much to ask for.

Key markets fluctuated in comparison to pre-virus forecasts. While New York continued to claw its way back to parity (rising to 42 percent below forecast), joined by Los Angeles (rising to 20 percent below the predicted norm for the week), Dallas and Detroit fell. The result of threadbare pickup inventory? That could account for some of it, as full-size trucks fell from near-parity to 7 percent below forecast last week, but other segments flattened out, too.

Midsize pickup sales fell 7 percent below pre-virus forecasts despite sailing above the prediction the week before. Other popular segments like midsize and small SUVs made no gains for the week. Compact cars, which have thus far suffered the greatest volume loss as a result of the pandemic, improved over forecast by 1 percent. It’s still at the back of the pack among the top five automotive segments (down 43 percent compared to the projected normal).

Taking all segments into account, retail volume fell 27 percent short of pre-virus expectations last week. That’s 69,000 units lost, and a worse showing than the week before, when the industry was down 24 percent, with 55,000 units lost.

The only good news for the industry was reserved for makers of premium automobiles. Some premium segments, such as compact SUVs and compact cars, continued to rise, albeit modestly. Compact premium SUVs were down just 24 percent from pre-virus forecast — a much healthier position than the 71 percent drop seen at the height of the lockdown. Premium compact cars were down 36 percent, a slight improvement from the previous week’s 38 percent. Midsize SUVs were about flat.

All told, the continued strengthening of the premium market, when combined with a stagnant mainstream market, pushed premium market share up a point (to 13 percent).

[Image: Lexus]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Schmitt trigger Schmitt trigger on May 22, 2020

    When 9/11 happened, watching it live as the second tower collapsed, I thought to myself: "Remember this date, history is being made right now, and things will be different going forward". Although not as quick and dramatic as the demolition of the World Trade towers by jet liners, I also believe that with the COVID-19 pandemic history is being made right now, and that things will also be VERY different from now on. On a much broader scale, though.

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    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on May 22, 2020

      @gasser I don't pay my government officials to shrug their shoulders and say "well, nothing we can do...25 percent or so of you will just be unemployed now and this is the new normal." If that is how you feel you have ceased to be a leader and you need to get out of the way. We don't elect people to say "Woe is me" and move us backwards.

  • Jkross22 Jkross22 on May 22, 2020

    Stagnating pay, employment risks, stock market instability, average new car stickering for $37,577 (KBB)... take your pick. Just spent $700 on a repair for my 13 year old car. That's a car payment for a good used car for perhaps 40 days at best. Leasing my wife's car for $600/month after tax. Seems to me the new car market is going to tank bigly for the next year. Anyone try to buy a bicycle recently? I have. All entry level and mid level mountain bikes are sold out in North America from the biggest bike mfg. I'm in So Cal and the weather is nice, but want to talk about a trend.... there's one for you.

  • Golden2husky Have to say he did an excellent job on the C7, especially considering the limited budget he was given. I am very happy with my purchase.
  • Marty The problem isn't range; it's lack of electricity in multi-unit building parking. All you need is level 1 - a standard 120v wall socket - and if you're plugged in 10 hours overnight you get 280 miles per week or more. That's enough for most folks but you can use public charging to supplement when needed. Installing conduit circuits and outlets is simple and cheap; no charge stations needed.
  • 2manyvettes Tadge was at the Corvette Corral at the Rolex 24 hour sports car race at the end of January 2023. During the Q&A after his remarks someone stood up and told him "I will never buy an electric Corvette." His response? "I will never sell you an electric Corvette." Take that Fwiw.
  • Socrates77 They're pinching pennies for the investors like always, greed has turned GM into a joke of an old corporate American greed.
  • Analoggrotto looking at this takes me right back to the year when “CD-ROM” first entered public lexicon