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  • Stay-at-home orders and plant shutdowns prompted by the spread of COVID-19 were a major impediment to sales between April 1 and June 30.
  • FCA has reported a quarterly decline in U.S. sales of 39 percent; GM, a decline of 34 percent. Hyundai saw its March sales drop by 18 percent.
  • We will update this story as other automakers release quarterly sales numbers.

    Most automakers have shifted to a quarterly release of U.S. new-vehicle sales data, but if they were hoping to limit the number of bad headlines during the COVID-19 crisis, perhaps a biannual or even biennial release schedule would be better. When automakers reported 2020’s first-quarter sales in early April, one optimistic message at the time was that we would have to wait until second-quarter numbers were released to get a better handle on the coronavirus’s true impact on the industry.

    Well, the second quarter is here and the verdict is in: this thing is real, but the hard decline of April was mitigated by two months, May and June, that weren’t quite as bad. Fleet sales were hit hard, and supplies were low for most of the quarter, given that automakers did not manufacture many vehicles once COVID-19 had shut down factories around the world.

    GM: Sales Down 34 Percent, Blazer Did Well

    General Motors saw a sales decline of 34 percent across its brands in the second quarter compared to 2019, selling 492,489 vehicles in the last three months.

    The few bright spots, meaning models where the sales numbers were not in the negative, for the second quarter include the Chevy Blazer (up 68 percent compared to the same period last year), the Trax (basically flat, with a 3 percent increase), and some heavy-duty models. With most of GM’s U.S. factories back to “normal operating levels,” GM says that its supply of new vehicles will climb thanks to increased production as well as “capacity made available by lower rental volumes.”

    Hyundai: Down 18 Percent, Fleets the Main Problem

    Hyundai sales were also down, moving a total of 141,722 vehicles in the second quarter, a 24 percent decrease from 2019. Year to date, Hyundai’s sales are down 18 percent, mostly due to fleet sales which, even though they only made up 2 percent of Hyundai’s total volume, were down 93 percent. The company said its retail sales were down only 3 percent in that time frame.

    Hyundai’s luxury Genesis brand was also down 38 percent in the second quarter.

    FCA: Down 39 Percent, Gladiator Strong

    Fiat Chrysler sales were also down in the second quarter, dropping a serious 39 percent compared to the same time last year. FCA said May and June sales were higher than expected after April’s “economic havoc” caused by COVID-19. At least online sales are up, with FCA saying that about 20 percent of its new-vehicle sales now start as an online retail process, compared with just 1 percent last year. And people were undoubtedly interested in the all-new Gladiator, which saw its sales climb 174 percent in the second quarter. Even so, FCA sales are down 26 percent year to date compared to 2019.

    Mazda: Down 9.6 Percent, but New CX-30 Was Strong

    Mazda was down 9.6 percent overall in the second quarter compared to 2019, but there were some highlights. The brand-new CX-30 crossover helped stem the downward tide, and both the MX-5 Miata and CX-9 were up, 9.9 and 14.2 percent, respectively, in Q2. As with other automakers, Mazda’s June numbers looked good (and were actually up 11 percent compared to 2019), but not enough to turn the quarter around.

    Nissan/Infiniti: Down Almost 50 Percent

    Nissan and Infiniti managed to see the worst drop of quarter (at least of those automakers whose numbers are out as of this writing), with sales that were 49.5 percent lower in 2020 than 2019. Murano sales were basically even with last year, and 370Z sales, small as they are, were up 24 percent. Most other models plummeted, but none worse than the electric Leaf and the Versa, which both fell 68 percent. Overall, Nissan and Infiniti’s car sales were down 61 percent and their truck sales were down “only” 41 percent in Q2.

    Subaru Down 25 Percent, but Forester Has Best June Ever

    Subaru, which is joining its industry peers in shifting to a quarterly sales data release schedule, reported second-quarter numbers that were down 25.3 percent compared to 2019. Subaru senior vice president of sales Jeff Walters said in a statement that even “in the midst of a competitive market limited by the pandemic, the Forester continued to shine.” That’s because the Forester had its best June ever, selling 19,490 units last month.

    Toyota/Lexus: Mirai and Sienna Saw Biggest Drops

    Toyota and Lexus were down 34.6 percent overall, with Toyota selling 35.6 percent fewer vehicles in the second quarter of 2020 compared to 2019, and Lexus seeing a 26.8 percent drop. The biggest losers were the fuel-cell-powered Mirai, which saw a 90 percent sales drop, and the Sienna, down 76 percent. Larger vehicles didn’t fare quite as poorly, with the aging Lexus GX actually up 11.8 percent.

    Volkswagen: Passat, Arteon Successes Limit Decline to 29 Percent

    VW didn’t have as terrible a quarter compared to the rest of the industry, with its sales falling 29 percent. Things would have been worse, but sales of the Passat and Arteon were actually up 11 and 33 percent, respectively. As with Toyota and Nissan, consumers soured most on the alternative-fuel models, with the discontinued e-Golf leading the sales decline by dropping 88 percent.

    So that’s the state of the industry in the middle of 2020. It’s our least favorite year in quite a while, but the bad news is likely to continue for the rest of the year, given that the U.S. has yet to get the coronavirus under control and many states are slowing down their reopening plans. We’ll check back in three months from now to take stock, but we’re not holding our breath for good news if for no other reason than because the last time we had quarterly reports to look at, “only” 3900 people had died of coronavirus in the U.S. That number currently stands at around 120,000.

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