U.S. Auto Sales:
A Pandemic Race to the Bottom


March 2020 U.S. auto sales drop through the floor.

As expected, the U.S. auto sales numbers for March 2020 reflect what we already knew: a substantial correction, resulting almost entirely from the COVID-19 pandemic. Every manufacturer and brand posted losses in March, as the country went through an expanding area of “stay at home” orders covering most of the nation. The full impact of the coronavirus outbreak is not yet known, but consumers are staying away from showrooms.

More than 3 million Americans were suddenly left jobless by the third week of March, effectively removing a source of consumers who might show interest in purchasing a new vehicle. In some states, dealerships shut down, while in others they stayed open under local “essential services” rules.

All three of the major domestics – GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler – reported losses. The Big 3, as they are colloquially known – stopped reporting monthly sales figures, choosing to share quarterly data only. With the first quarter done, nearly every brand showed net losses. Ram was the lone exception; Korean make Kia also came out on the plus side.
GM’s quarterly sales fell 7 percent, while Fiat Chrysler slid 10 percent. Ford’s numbers were not available as of this writing, but losses rivaling its chief competitors is in order.

Other automakers reported their March sales, which give a stark picture of what happened last month. Subaru, which has seen a steady increase in sales since the last recession, registered a 47-percent drop in March. The loss snapped a month-over-month streak that spanned more than eight years. Indeed, Subaru is facing the end of 11 consecutive years of growth that have transformed this niche automaker into an important player in the U.S. market.

In no particular order, sales numbers culled from manufacturing data is as follows:

Kia sales fell 22.9 percent for the month, but remain up slightly for the year. Two strong months to begin the year have kept this Korean manufacturer in the black, although we expect that’ll change during the first week of April. Hyundai’s sales fell 43 percent of the month, thus it sold fewer cars than Kia, its sister brand.

Mitsubishi reported a 42-percent sales drop, while Mazda’s sales plunged 42.8-percent. Mazda enjoyed strong sales in January and February, thus it is only down 4.9 percent for the quarter.

Porsche’s quarterly sales dropped 20.2 percent, with every established model registering double-digit losses. Porsche also started delivering its Taycan all-electric model, with 221 units sold in the first quarter.

Volkswagen sales dropped 42 percent for the month and are down 13 percent for the year. The automaker rolled out the new Atlas Cross Sport model during the first quarter.

Toyota sales fell nearly 37 percent for the month and are down 8.8 percent for the first quarter. New models counted during the January-March period include the GR Supra sportscar and the Yaris Hatchback.

Nissan Group sales, inclusive of the Infiniti and Nissan brands, are down nearly 30 percent for the quarter. This automaker had already experienced a significant downturn ahead of the coronavirus crisis with its sales falling the steepest amongst the major manufacturers.

Honda experienced one of the largest month-over-month drops of any manufacturer with March 2020 sales down 48 percent compared to March 2019. For the quarter, Honda sales – inclusive of the Honda and Acura brands – are off 19.2 percent.

Other manufacturers, including Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW will report today or Friday. All three will share substantial losses for March.

Looking Ahead

April 2020 sales will continue to fall as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens across the United States. With various “stay at home” directives in place, consumers won’t be visiting showrooms in many areas. For lessees, opting for an extension may bide them some time, otherwise inventory turnover should be light for the second quarter, perhaps rebounding in the second half of the year as the pandemic eases.

See AlsoAuto Industry Reacts to Coronavirus Threat

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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A Pandemic Race to the Bottom

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