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Coronavirus crippled U.S. auto sales in 2020 but it could have been far worse


A automotive seller exhibits a car to prospects at a dealership in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Angus Mordant | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sales of recent automobiles in the U.S. are anticipated to shut this yr down at the very least 15%, which might mark one of many trade’s worst annual declines since at the very least 1980.

In any regular yr, such a speedy fall would have meant an trade in disaster. But in 2020, the overwhelming sentiment is “it could have been worse.”

“It’s been a rough year, but I think we’re ending in a much better place than we expected,” mentioned Nick Woolard, director of automaker analytics at TrueCar. “Early on there was this sharp right turn that nobody anticipated that drove the whole industry into some pretty dark days and the forecasts all went really bleak.”

During the depths of the primary peak of Covid-19 in the spring, sales of recent automobiles collapsed as auto vegetation shuttered and lots of sellers had been pressured to shut showrooms. J.D. Power forecast retail sales would decline by as a lot as 80% in April, resulting in probably near-recession sales ranges for the yr.

But retail sales to shoppers rebounded far quicker than anybody forecast. Sales in the course of the second quarter declined by about 34%. They had been largely pushed by low – even 0% — rates of interest, traditionally lengthy financing affords and folks desirous to hit the open highway as an alternative of taking public transportation or airways.

“A big comeback story of 2020 is without a doubt the recovery of retail vehicle sales, which have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels,” mentioned Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ government director of insights.

2020 sales

TrueCar studies retail sales are anticipated to solely be down 8% in contrast with 2019, whereas fleet sales to business and authorities prospects are forecast to plummet 43%.

If the forecasts are right, 2020 would be the fourth-largest annual decline for the U.S. auto trade since 1980 – behind a 19.1% loss in 1980 and 18% and 21.2% declines in the course of the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, respectively. But it could have been worse.

“This year presented the economy and the auto market with incredible challenges. As we close the year, it is remarkable to see how well the industry performed,” mentioned Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Cox Automotive.

Record income

The decrease fleet sales in addition to tight stock ranges on account of plant shutdowns in the spring have led to better-than-expected earnings for automakers and report income for a lot of publicly traded seller teams.

AutoNation, the most important seller group in the U.S., reported report quarterly adjusted earnings per share of $2.38 for the third quarter, a rise of 102% in contrast with final yr. That was led by a 40% enhance in working revenue regardless of a slight drop in quarterly income.

“It’s our absolute best quarter ever,” AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson informed CNBC in October. “The demand for individual mobility has gone through the roof, and I think this pandemic/shelter in place has shifted the American psyche in a long-term way, and it’s hard to predict past five years, but for the next three to five years, there’s been a shift in demand.”

Other publicly traded seller teams equivalent to Group 1 Automotive, Lithia Motors and Sonic Automotive additionally reported varied report outcomes this yr.



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