Coronavirus: An Industry Under Siege

Car manufacturers are finding different ways to support Americans during the pandemic. Here, a technician administers a COVID-19 test for a passenger at a drive-thru testing center. This particular center is the Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC. Hyundai supplied $4 million in grants through its Hyundai Hope On Wheels program to help underwrite testing (photo copyright Hyundai Motors).

Two months in and the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic shows little signs of ebbing. Sure, we’re seeing the number of new cases fall in many of the earlier hotspots, but in other areas of the country as well as in the world, the scourge seems persistent and ever-expanding.

Trillions of dollars of commerce have disappeared, with the federal government countering with trillions more in financial relief to assist small businesses and taxpayers. In the middle of it all is big business, including the automakers who depend on a steady stream of customers to keep their enterprises afloat.

Deep Losses Abound

To the surprise of no one, the U.S. auto industry’s sales have plunged, with some manufacturers, such as Honda, reporting losses above 50 percent. Manufacturing plants the world over have shut or are operating at reduced capacity. Also, the supply network is on hold, while consumers are more concerned about putting food on their tables, obtaining unemployment assistance, and holding off landlords, mortgage companies, and utility companies in an effort to stay afloat.

Yet, in these distressing times there remains a glimmer of hope. Americans are practicing physical distancing, virus testing and tracing continues to expand, and businesses are figuring out ways to reach consumers going forward.

Early on, manufacturers set out to console consumers, including those who were already financing or leasing their vehicles. Auto Trends received copies of various alerts, informing owners of options available, including deferred payments. The last thing anyone wants to see is a massive repossessing of late-model cars and the financial carnage that would cause.

Special Financing and Cash Back Deals

Besides reaching out to current owners, the automakers quickly updated their financing and leasing schemes to reach new-vehicle shoppers. Fiat Chrysler led the charge, rolling out 0-percent financing for up to 84 months, an uncommonly long timeframe. Besides its novel financing approach, the cashback deals are also better. Our internal survey shows savings of $7,300 to more than $10,000 on the Ram pickup trucks alone.

Other manufacturers joined in, delivering a variety of offers. For example, Toyota offers 0-percent financing for 60 months on three models: its midsize Camry sedan, compact RAV4 crossover, and Tacoma pickup truck. Hyundai rolled out 0-percent financing for 84 months on its compact Elantra sedan and compact Tucson crossover. Moreover, well-qualified Hyundai buyers enjoy a 120-day deferment on their first payment.

Canceled: Electrified Lincoln SUV

Beyond consumer assistance, the manufacturers have responded in various ways by delaying the introduction of new models or scuttling a planned vehicle completely. For an example of the latter, the Ford Motor Company canceled the planned all-electric SUV for Lincoln. The company cited the coronavirus crisis as the reason for canceling the SUV. Ford will, however, continue with its plan to release a Ford-brand pickup truck based on Rivian’s platform.

Manufacturing plants across America endured weeks of shut down, beginning in March. By early May, several plants in the southern U.S. resumed operation, including facilities owned by BMW, Hyundai, and Kia. All three follow Volkswagen, which restarted production at its massive Chattanooga plant at the end of April.

None are operating anywhere near full capacity as manufacturers maintain distancing, while also testing the veracity of their fragile supply chains.

Looking Ahead

The current downturn easily rivals the losses experienced during the Great Recession of 2008-2009. But the unemployment numbers today are far higher, with the rate spiking to an estimated 16.1-percent when the figures become known on Friday. As the states relax their various shutdown edicts, we expect that number to start to drop. Still, it could be many months if not longer before unemployment returns to an acceptable level.

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, there are deals to be had. This writer exchanged his 2017 RAV4 for a 2020 Corolla, in April as the lease on the crossover came due. Opting for another lease, we lowered our monthly payments by selecting a lower-cost car and took advantage of incentives to save more money. Likewise, savvy consumers able to swing a new vehicle purchase should also garner an outstanding deal.

But there is one problem on the horizon: dealer stock is falling and, in many cases, won’t see replenishment until manufacturing resumes. Therefore, look for spot shortages until then, with pickup truck stock shrinking the most.

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.