US Sales

Augusto Amorim, Senior Manager, Americas Vehicle Sales Forecasts

07 April 2020

Covid-19 US Sales

COVID-19 leads to a sharper decline in US Light Vehicle sales this March than in 2009

As the world reels from the COVID-19 pandemic, a steep drop in global Light Vehicle sales in March came as little surprise.

In the US market, demand is estimated to have plummeted by 38.6% year-on-year, with 982,953 units sold in the month. This marks the second-worst percentage on record, just behind the 41.4% plunge in February 2009, at the time of the financial crisis. (That said, the March 2020 volume was still higher than in almost every month of 2009). To put this into context, sales have fallen below the 1 million level in only 27 months since January 2000.

Below, we take a closer look at the (estimated) results on a year-on-year comparative basis.

Brands

The only brand in the US market expected to have posted growth in the month is Bentley (+34%), on sales of 219 units. Excluding the Super-Premium brand, however, only Ram and Kia escaped a drop of 20% or more. With a volume of 45,413 units, Kia outperformed sister brand Hyundai by 10,000 units. This is only the fifth time that Kia has achieved this feat, and never before with such a high margin.

At the other end of the spectrum, six brands are expected to have suffered losses in excess of 60%, namely Buick, Freightliner, Lotus, Mini, Fiat and Karma.

The biggest loser in volume terms is thought to be Chevrolet, despite growth for the Silverado, putting the model ahead of the Ram 1500. We expect Toyota, Nissan and Honda to have lost more than 60,000 units apiece. That Chevrolet is among these brands is somewhat puzzling, given that the first wave of lockdown measures came into effect on the US coasts, where Asian brands are favoured.

Bodystyles

The Car bodystyle suffered the steepest downturn (-48%). Tipping the balance were Pickups (-19%), with Large (-16%) faring better than Midsize (-31%) and overall segment share jumping to 21.1%. Not since 2005 has the Pickup segment held more than 20% of the overall market.

Pickup sales boosted Ford’s market share to an estimated 16% in March, a level not seen since 2011. Support came from the US market’s bestselling model, the F-150, as well as growth of nearly 80% for the Ranger, albeit from a low comparative base.

The Car segment suffered the largest share loss (-4 percentage points), although SUV saw the sharpest month-on-month drop (-4.1 percentage points). It will be interesting to see whether buyers migrate back to the more affordable Car bodystyle in the inevitable – and likely severe – post-pandemic recession.

The Car segment was a highlight for the Asian automakers in March. The Honda Civic overtook the CR-V for the first time since May 2019; the Nissan Altima widened its advantage over the Rogue; and the Toyota Camry closed the gap with the RAV4.

Models

Excluding the models that were dropped over the last 12 months, the biggest sales loss was recorded by the BMW i3 (-98%). Not far behind were the Toyota Yaris (-85%), Honda Clarity (-84%) and Toyota Mirai (-82%). Two major obstacles hindered electrified vehicle sales. Firstly, California – where demand for hybrid and electric vehicles is easily the highest in the US – was one of the first states to implement a lockdown. Secondly, gasoline prices dropped by US$0.30/gallon between February and March.

The bigger picture

In most US states, the sales figures for the first week of March were relatively normal, so the month as a whole may not yet provide an accurate picture of the impact of COVID-19. The results for April and May are set to be even more dismal, bringing full-year Light Vehicle sales to 14.2 million units. This compares with our forecast of 16.5 million in early March. The unprecedented and unpredictable nature of the current health crisis means that we cannot rule out further revisions to this forecast.