New auto sales in US up in 2021, but long way before full recovery
U.S. new vehicle sales rebounded slightly last year from 2020’s dismal numbers, but were still about 2 million below the years before the coronavirus pandemic.
Although there are plenty of customers who want to buy new vehicles at hefty prices, there still aren’t enough computer chips for the industry to fully crank up its factories. So supplies are short, prices are high, and many customers can’t get what they want.
Sales hit just over 15 million vehicles in 2021, up 3.4 percent from 2020, the year the pandemic took hold in the U.S.
“Demand is not off at all,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Cox Automotive. “What is off is sales, because the inventory doesn’t exist.”
Cox expects 2021 sales to be 14.9 million vehicles, up 2.5 percent from 2020, the year the pandemic hit the U.S. and forced the industry to shut down for eight weeks. But over the five years before the pandemic, sales averaged 17.3 million.
Among the hardest hit by the chip shortage was General Motors, which was unseated by Toyota last year as the nation’s top-selling automaker for the first time.
GM on Jan. 4 reported that last year’s U.S. sales fell 13 percent from 2020 levels to just over 2.2 million. Toyota, on the other hand, saw its sales rise 10.4 percent to just over 2.3 million.
Like other automakers, GM was forced to temporarily close factories during the year as it struggled to get semiconductors, especially early in the year. Krebs said she isn’t sure if GM will be able to dislodge Toyota this year because Toyota has managed the chip shortage better and has a faster distribution.
GM diverted limited chip supplies to higher-margin pickup trucks and full-size SUVs, boosting the company’s bottom line, spokesman Jim Cain said. Early last year, GM forecast pretax earnings of $10 billion to $11 billion, but expects to finish the year around $14 billion, he said.
The company, Cain said, expects the chip shortage to ease this year, with more available in the second half.
Among other automakers reporting full-year sales numbers were Ford with a 7 percent year on year decline, Stellantis with a 2.2 percent drop, and Subaru with sales falling 4.6 percent below 2020. Honda posted an 8.9 percent increase, while Hyundai saw a 23.3 percent jump. Nissan sales also rose, by 8.7 percent, while Volkswagen Group posted an 11.7 percent increase, according to Motor Intelligence.