U.S. auto sales slump as industry endures second month of coronavirus shutdown

Sales reports are expected Friday and Monday

Automakers are beginning to report U.S. April sales, and as expected the results are not good. Some automakers appear likely to delay their releases until Monday.

Hyundai and its luxury subsidiary, Genesis, reported significant drops compared to April of last year. Hyundai's core brand was down nearly 39 percent; Genesis was off by almost 50%. Only the Tucson managed to sell nearly as well as it did in April 2019. Sister brand Kia finished the month in lock-step with Hyundai, dropping 38% from last April. 

Mazda said its sales were down nearly 45% compared to a year ago. The Miata was the bright spot at Mazda, down "only" 29%.

Toyota saw sales fall by 54%, both at the Toyota division and at Lexus. Honda's figures were nearly identical: down 53.8% for the month and 28.1% for 2020. Acura dropped 56.8% in April and is down 30.2% so far for the year. 

In late April, TrueCar released ALG forecasts predicting an industry-wide drop of approximately 50% and a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) for total light-vehicle sales of just 7.7 million units. Year-end auto sales in the U.S. have not hit figures that low at any point in the past four decades, and volumes will pick up again as restrictions ease.

"Like most industries in the U.S., the automotive industry has also suffered significantly from the Coronavirus pandemic," said Eric Lyman, Chief Industry Analyst at ALG. "By the beginning of April, a majority of the states had enacted ‘shelter at home’ orders along with closures of many businesses in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. Public health concerns mixed with job losses and economic decline led to a dramatic drop in automotive sales."

ALG noted that import brands have largely been hit harder than domestics, largely due to buyer demographics and the composition of their current offerings. Trucks, which sell well in regions where restrictions have been less prevalent, aren't being hit as hard.

"Although most automakers saw big declines in sales, the domestic brands such as GM and Ford had a smaller percentage of loss than imported brands when compared year-over-year," Lyman said. "Some of that is attributable to the generous incentive offerings from the domestics, and some of it is due to the higher mix of imports in the states that were initially hit hardest compared with the states that were impacted later."

These regional differences have proven noteworthy even to import manufacturers. Hyundai's Randy Parker, vice president, National Sales, commented on the variance in the company's April sales release:

"Sales varied significantly across regions. We focused on supporting sales in areas that transitioned from showroom retail to digital and contactless retail sales and service. We look forward to supporting our dealers and customers as cities, counties and states slowly re-open and we begin returning to work after this tragic pandemic," Parker said.

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