After the past two weeks of devastating unemployment claim numbers, one of the latest economic canaries to enter the coronavirus pandemic coal mine are U.S. sales of cars and light trucks. Automakers and auto analysts have been anticipating first quarter 2020 and March numbers, expecting to see sharp drops in sales.
The quarterly sales numbers do not tell the whole story, because car sales were relatively strong in January and February, compared to a year ago. There was even a week or more at the beginning of March before concern over the pandemic took hold, but since then many dealerships have closed, particularly in major metropolitan areas that have issued stay-at-home orders. Some remain open only for parts and service.
If showrooms remain shuttered this month, April-and the entire second quarter—will look much worse.
Cox Automotive estimates a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate of 15.2 million vehicles sold in the first quarter of 2020, a severe decline from 2019’s annual sales of nearly 17 million vehicles.
Worse, January 2020’s SAAR (the estimated annual number, based on a single month’s sales and adjusted for traditional sales trends in that given month) was 16.9 million vehicles, which slipped slightly to 16.8-million in February, Cox Automotive says. The March SAAR was 11.8 million, Cox Automotive reports, the lowest SAAR for the month since March 2010’s 11.7 million during the Great Recession.
Mitsubishi, for example, says 97 of its dealerships have closed, accounting for 28 percent, and another 94 dealerships, or 27 percent, are open by appointment only, as a result of local governmental shutdown orders.
Mitsubishi says it will switch to quarterly U.S. sales reports, as General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Fiat Chrysler and others already have. Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar Land Rover have gone a step further, and will report U.S. sales late in the month when their headquarters in Germany and the U.K. release global sales numbers.
But there are enough statistics here to tell us that car and light truck sales fell off a cliff for the second part of March, even as automakers tried to respond by offering generous loan deals and buyback guarantees to consumers fearing they might temporarily lose income, or permanently lose their jobs.
There were some curiosities. A few sports cars and sporty cars sold well and posted quarterly increases, such as the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Ford Mustang. Subaru BRZ sales took a huge dive, but outsold the Toyota 86 for the first time in recent memory. Ford’s Transit van had a good first quarter, suggesting that some delivery companies scrambled to purchase them for work, but the Ram ProMaster did not do well. Sales of the Ram pickup, as well as the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, were up for the quarter. Production was just ramping up for the two new GM pickups, which skews the percentage change, but all three brands were gaining on Ford’s F-Series, which, due for an all-new model, suffered a significant decline.
In general, SUV and crossover sales, which had begun to plateau, gained ground on sedans mostly because they had smaller decreases than the cars.
Several of the automakers listed March sales numbers, as well as for the first three months, year-to-date. Number-three Toyota and number-five Honda were pretty hard hit. Toyota sales fell 36.9 percent, and Honda was down 48 percent for the month.
Subaru recorded its first monthly and quarterly drop in 11 years. It was down 16.7 percent for the first quarter, and nearly halved, by 47 percent, to 32,611 for March. Kia’s March sales fell just 18.6 percent, to 45,413, and Kia’s year-to-date number of 137,945 vehicles sold was actually up 1 percent over Q1 of ’19. The new Kia Telluride was a contributing factor, with 16,826 sold in the first three months.
And so, to the numbers …
General Motors: 618,335, off 7.1 percent.
- Chevrolet sales fell 3.8 percent, to 435,422.
- Silverado sales totaled 144,734, up 26.6 percent.
- Equinox was off 17 percent, to 73,453, but Malibu was up 3.2 percent, to 35,283.
- Camaro sales plummeted 40.5 percent, to 7,185.
- Corvette was off 3.1 percent as Chevy sells down the C7, to 3,820.
- Bolt sales jumped 36.1 percent, to 5,873.
- GMC was off 5.5 percent, to 118,718. Sierra sales totaled 53,009, up 30.7 percent.
- Terrain was off 0.3 percent, to 25,292.
- Buick was down 34.7 percent for the quarter, to 33,870, as dealers cleared the last of some of its car models from lots.
- Supply of Buick’s bestselling Encore, imported from South Korea, was heavily constrained due to the pandemic. Encore fell 42.1 percent, to 14,238, and sales of 2,601 Encore GXes could not make up for the drop.
- Envision was off 9.1 percent, to 6,932. Enclave was down 30.4 percent, to 8,752.
- Cadillac sales fell 15.8 percent for the quarter, to 30,325.
- XT5 remained a bestseller for Cadillac, at 9,023, off 32 percent.
- Escalade, off 17.6 percent to 5,620 as the all-new model was revealed, outsold XT4, off 26.5 percent, to 5,162.
- Cadillac’s all-new models include the XT6 at 5,074 sold, the CT5 at 3,000 and CT4 at 41.
- The CT6, which ended production in February, was off 21.2 percent, to 1,725.
Ford Motor Company: 516,330, off 12.5 percent.
- Ford division was off 13.2 percent, to 490,769, while Lincoln was up 2.3 percent, to 25,561.
- Mustang sales rose 6.8 percent for the quarter, to 18,069.
- F-Series sales fell 13.1 percent to 186,562. Ranger was up 122.7 percent (over its first year back) to 20,980.
- The Transit van was up 15.7 percent to 86,836, though Transit Connect was off 15.4 percent, to 7,565.
- Explorer sales dropped 9.1 percent to 56,310.
- Escape sales lost 20.7 percent, falling to 48,117. Fusion was off 11.4 percent, with 36,937 sold.
- Lincoln Continental was up 15.4 percent, to 1,563, while Nautilus/MKX was down 33.1 percent, to 5,245.
- Corsair sales slipped 2 percent, to 5,670; 5,666 Aviators were sold.
Toyota Motor Sales: 495,747, off 8.8 percent.
- Year-to-date, Toyota division was down 7.9 percent, to 439,402 and Lexus fell 15.6 percent, to 56,345.
- Toyota RAV4, which for the last few years has been the bestselling non-pickup truck in the U.S., was up 16.5 percent for the quarter to 97,631. But its March sales number of 24,875 is a 25 percent decline.
- Sequoia was down 41.6 percent for the quarter to 1,408, and 4Runner was off 14.5 percent to 28,072.
- Among Toyota cars, Camry was off 5.5 percent to 71,888, and Corolla was off 12 percent to 69,214.
- Prius was off 4.8 percent to 11,483. Toyota sold 1,013 Supras, and 704 of its 86 sports cars, the latter off 12.8 percent for the quarter.
- Tacoma was down 7.8 percent to 53,636, and Tundra sales fell 13.7 percent to 21,658.
- Lexus RX sales fell 11.4 percent for the quarter to 20,847, while NX was down 17.9 percent to 11,309.
- Lexus ES was down 18.8 percent to 9,247, and IS plunged 30.2 percent to 2,712.
Fiat Chrysler: 446,768, off 10 percent.
- The only models up substantially were the Ram pickup truck, at 140,486, an increase of 3 percent, and the Chrysler Pacifica, at 24,525, was up 5 percent.
- A popular model with delivery companies and drivers, the Ram ProMaster was off 28 percent to 9,585, while the compact ProMaster City dropped 43 percent, to 2,096.
- Jeep sales fell 14 percent to 182,670. Bestseller Grand Cherokee was off 13 percent to 50,083, and Cherokee was down 32 percent, to 33,675.
- Wrangler sales fell 21 percent to 39,688, though Jeep sold 15,259 Gladiators (up from 123 during the Q1 ’19 launch).
- Dodge sales dropped 20 percent to 88,657. Challenger was off 10 percent to 12,138, and Charger was off 10 percent, to 18,268. Journey sales fell 37 percent to 15,152 for the quarter.
- Chrysler was off 5 percent to 30,124, with the 300 sedan down 32 percent, to 5,596.
- Alfa Romeo sales slipped 14 percent to 3,703, with Stelvio down 13 percent to 1,913, and Giulia down 14 percent to 1,759.
- Fiat sales fell 14 percent to 1,128 for the quarter. The 124 Spider became the brand’s bestseller by default, off 24 percent to 388 cars sold. Fiat sold 327 of its 500s, down 58 percent.
American Honda, 298,785, off 19.2 percent.
- Year-to-date, Honda division was off 18.9 percent to 270,785, and Acura fell 21.6 percent to 28,532.
- Honda sold 71,186 CR-Vs, off 18.4 percent.
- Civic was off 18.2 percent to 63,944, and Accord was down 26.8 percent to 47,125.
- Pilot sales dropped 27.5 percent to 23,898, and Odyssey was down 23 percent to 16,390.
- Acura’s bestseller, RDX, fell 25.5 percent to 11,153.
- MDX was down 17.1 percent to 8,941. The TLX sedan was off 22 percent to 5,484.
Nissan Group: 257,606, off 29.6 percent.
- Nissan division was down 30 percent to 232,048, and Infiniti fell 25.5 percent to 25,558.
- Nissan’s bestseller, Rogue, was down 36.3 percent to 59,716 units for the quarter, though Murano sales rose 33.7 percent to 15,683.
- Pathfinder also was up, by 4.3 percent to 18,092.
- Altima sales slipped 8 percent to 47,347, and Sentra dropped 58 percent to 23,879.
- Leaf sales fell 27.1 percent to 1,958. The 370Z was down 13.3 percent to 561.
- Nissan trucks did poorly. Frontier fell 49.2 percent to 10,280, Titan dropped by 40.6 percent to 5,732, and NV was off 17.3 percent to 3,728.
- Infiniti QX60 was down 29.9 percent to 9,061, and Q50 fell 32.5 percent to 5,575.
Hyundai: 130,875, off 11 percent.
- For the month of March, Hyundai sales dropped 39 percent compared with March of 2019, to 35,118 cars and SUVs.
- Hyundai sold 951 of its new Venues in the first quarter of ’20, and 17,089 Palisades.
- Elantra was bestseller for the quarter, though down 28.7 percent to 25,745.
- Tucson was off 17.7 percent to 23,735, and Kona fell 17.5 percent to 15,174.
- Santa Fe dropped 30.6 percent for the quarter to 19,902.
Subaru: 130,591, off 16.7 percent.
- Forester was off 3.9 percent for the quarter to 39,080.
- Outback sales dropped 22 percent to 32,615.
- Crosstrek was down 17.9 percent to 21,516, and Ascent fell 18.1 percent to 15,624.
- WRX/STI dropped by 26.8 percent to 6,203.
- BRZ was the biggest loser by percentage, off 52.1 percent to 392, of which 318 were sold in March.
Kia: 137,945, up 1 percent.
- The brand’s oldest continuous nameplate in the U.S., the Sportage, had its best first quarter ever, at 20,057, up 4.5 percent. But in March, its sales fell 16.8 percent to 5,382.
- Bestseller for the quarter was Forte, up 4.6 percent to 22,359.
- Several top Kia numbers are bunched together, with Optima off 10.2 percent to 20,345, and Sorento down 23.6 percent to 18,055.
- Telluride was up 211.9 percent over its launch year’s first quarter, to 16,286.
Volkswagen: 75,075, off 13 percent.
- Tiguan was off 17 percent for the quarter to 22,177.
- Jetta sales fell 7.3 percent to 21,393.
- Atlas was off 11 percent to 14,278, and VW sold 1,129 Atlas Cross Sports.
- Golf sales slipped 1.1 percent to 7,700, and Passat was down 23 percent to 5,981.
Mazda: 67,670, off 4.5 percent.
- March-over-March sales of 15,664 dropped 41.8 percent.
- Bestseller CX-5 sales fell 6.1 percent year-to-date to 35,211, but Mazda also sold 8,364 of its new CX-30s.
- CX-9 was up, 12.5 percent to 7,219.
- The MX-5 Miata also was up, by 11.1 percent to 1,700 for the quarter, though March sales accounted for just 497 of that, off 31.6 percent. Miata and Fiata beat 86 and BRZ, 2,088 to 1,096.
- Mazda3 sales dropped 46.6 percent year-to-date to 8,118.
BMW Group: 64,692, off 17.4 percent.
- That number consists of 59,455 BMWs sold, off 15.3 percent, and 5,237 Minis sold, off 35.1 percent.
- BMW brand sold 30,582 cars, off 21.2 percent, and 28,873 SUVs, off 8.2 percent.
- Mercedes-Benz USA will report U.S. quarterly sales later in the month, in conjunction with the automaker’s global sales report.
Audi: 41,367, off 14 percent.
- Q5 sales fell 35 percent to 9,959.
- Q8 was off 23 percent to 2,436.
- A5 sales for the quarter was off just 3 percent to 5,320, as A4 sales dropped 32 percent to 3,949.
- Audi sold 1,711 e-trons, year-to-date.
- JLR will report U.S. quarterly sales later in the month, in conjunction with the automaker’s global sales report.
Mitsubishi: 35,563, off 15.5 percent.
- March sales plummeted 52 percent to 9,394.
- Outlander sales fell 6.8 percent for the quarter to 12,809.
- Outlander Sport was up 1 percent to 12,577.
- Mirage was down 25.6 percent to 4,646.
Volvo: 19,485, off 11.7 percent.*
Porsche: 11,994, off 20.2 percent.
- Cayenne was bestseller for the quarter, off 31.2 percent to 3,822, while Macan sales fell 10.2 percent to 3,777.
- Sales of the 911 fell 10.5 percent, to 2,590 and 718 dropped 39.8 percent to 400.
- Porsche sold 221 Taycans. Panamera was off 30.3 percent to 1,184.
Genesis: 3,955, off 5.9 percent.
- G70 was off 7 percent to 2,074, and G80 was down 19.2 percent to 1,197.
- G90 was up 39.6 percent to 684.