New car sales rose last quarter despite ongoing chip shortages

Q1 looks like good news for just about everybody

Automakers on Thursday reported a rebound in first-quarter U.S. sales from a coronavirus-induced slump last year, but numbers were dulled by a global chip scarcity that forced many companies to cut production.

The need for increased personal safety during the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted sales for automakers, as people prefer to travel by their own cars to using public transportation.

However, the semiconductor chip shortage and severe winter weather in southwest United States in February have caused automakers to shut factories, turning analysts cautious about the speed of the sector's recovery in 2021.

  • Ford reported a 1% uptake in overall sales for the quarter, emphasizing a strong resurgence of F-Series sales, which had been more tepid for much of 2020. Ford has reduced half-ton production in recent weeks due to the silicon shortage, but we'll have to wait until July to find out whether that will have a measurable impact on deliveries, which sit at 203,797 for the year so far. 
  • General Motors said its first-quarter U.S. sales rose 3.9% to 642,250 vehicles. GM did have one noteworthy stumble: Chevrolet Silverado sales dropped 12.5%, while its sister model, the GMC Sierra, enjoyed an almost-19% bump. That sounds like it should be a wash, but the Sierra's comparatively lower volume means it was still a net-negative quarter for GM's full-size pickups. Between the two nameplates, GM has moved 189,508 Silverados and Sierras so far this year, vs. 197,743 in Q1 '20. 
  • Stellantis likewise checked in with good news. While a couple of its brands are down a bit compared to a year ago, Ram, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler and Jeep all reported sales gains. The full-size Ram lineup got a 16% lift, making it the second-best-selling full-size nameplate (counting Silverado and Sierra separately). 
  • Honda made an even more dramatic improvement in Q1, finishing 16% ahead of the same quarter last year, with 347,000 units sold. Even its Acura division, which has experienced fits and starts recently, finished the quarter up nearly 33%. 
  • Things were even more explosive at Toyota, which, thanks to a post-lockdown March performance, finished Q1 21% ahead on the strength of just about everything in its mainstream and Lexus (up 31.8%) lineups. 
  • Subaru likewise had a healthy quarter, rebounding from slumping 2020 sales with a 23% increase. Impreza, Ascent and Legacy all slipped compared to Q1 2020.
  • Mazda reported a 23% upswing in sales for the quarter, with essentially no bad news on its sales chart apart from still-slow sales of the Midsize Mazda6 sedan. Sales of the Miata and CX-30 crossover nearly doubled compared to the same period last year. 
  • VW's numbers were similar to Mazda's, with a 21% first-quarter bump largely on the strong volume of the Tiguan and solid performances by both variants of the Atlas. Porsche sales picked up even more explosively, surging nearly 45% over Q1 of 2020. 
  • Nissan said its U.S. sales rose nearly 11% to 285,553 vehicles in the quarter. Infiniti sales slumped by more than 25%. 
  • Hyundai's U.S. sales jumped about 28% to 167,130 vehicles.

This article includes reporting from Reuters.

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