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July 20, 2021

Q2 US light vehicle sales show large gains but surprising results

Our analysis of second quarter light vehicle sales in the US sees a demand recovery tempered by supply bottlenecks (chips) for some.

By Bill Cawthon

Supply issues continued to play havoc with the normal pecking order in the second quarter of US light vehicle sales.

Not only did Toyota report more sales than General Motors, both the Chevrolet Silverado and Ram pickups outsold the chip-starved Ford F-Series.

The Silverado beat the Ram in Q2 but the Ram was still ahead for the first six months. Stellantis’ Dodge Division sold more passenger cars than Ford Motor Company and General Motors and the Dodge Challenger was the best selling muscle car, coming in ahead of the Ford Mustang.

Strange times in the industry!

Overall sales in both the second quarter and the first half not only easily beat the same periods in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was crippling business, they also surpassed Q2 and H1 in 2019. The major manufacturers reported just over 4.7m deliveries in Q1, 42.9% ahead of the April-June period in 2020. This brought the first half total to nearly 8.6m, a gain of 32.7%. Since there were 77 selling days in the same period in both 2020 and 2021, the daily sales rate was the same for Q2 and slightly higher for the first half which had two fewer selling days than the first six months of 2020. As a group, the European automakers achieved the highest market share gain, adding more than an entire percentage point to their piece of the pie. The U.S. companies were the big losers, giving up 2.7% of their share. Toyota added nearly 2.6% while Ford lost more than three percent of its share. Tesla was the only U.S. automaker to gain share, adding 1.5% to its take.

Both Hyundai and Kia set all-time records in Q2 and H1, buoyed by robust deliveries of crossovers and SUVs. As has been the case for some time, crossovers and sport-utility vehicles claimed the largest share of new vehicle deliveries, nearly 52% of the total in both Q2 and the first half. Passenger cars had a slightly larger share this year than they did in 2020.

Minivans also had a small gain as deliveries of the Honda Odyssey and Kia Carnival offset the end of the Dodge Caravan. Curtailed production was the chief culprit in a big share loss for pickup trucks. The segment, which is usually quite strong, gave up nearly 4% in the second quarter leaving them with a 2.6% deficit for the first half. Full size pickups were responsible for the lion’s share of the loss; mid size trucks gave up just 0.4% in Q1 and were almost unchanged for the first half. The Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, and Jeep Gladiator were the leaders in the mid size segment. Nissan is betting on the new Frontier to regain sales and share but the current model had more deliveries than the Chevrolet Colorado in the second quarter.

Analysts are already forecasting a 16m plus year for the auto industry but steadily rising prices are making their way into the used vehicle market as more and more Americans opt for ‘pre-owned’. The average transaction price for new vehicles set a new record in June, climbing to US$42,258 (£30,780). In addition, the average age of a vehicle on US roads has now passed 12 years. While nowhere near as strong as they are in Europe, deliveries of electric vehicles are growing, thanks to new entries and refreshed models. Ford reported the Mustang Mach-E outsold the traditional ICE Mustang in June: in fairness it should be noted that sales of those fell 50.5%. While automakers around the world are announcing the end of the internal-combustion engine, it remains far from clear that the US will be ready for the transition. California, the hottest EV market in the country, has serious problems with a power grid that can’t even reliably handle the load it has now. In addition, the winter storm that crippled Texas could have had a far more serious impact on a state largely populated with battery-powered cars and trucks.

Currently, renewable resources such as wind power and solar contribute about 20% of the power generated in the US. Nuclear plants add another 20% but 60% of electricity in America comes from fossil fuel plants and there is significant public pressure in many parts of the US to shut those down. The US does not have an energy policy that addresses the transition to more environmentally friendly transportation and that could have a significant impact on automakers in the future. In the meantime, it remains to be seen how long the shortage of components will hamper new vehicle production in the US. Ford said it was considering shipping vehicles to dealers without the necessary chips and depending on the dealers to install them. Since the dealers get their components from the automakers, it is difficult to see how that would do anything other than artificially inflate sales, since those are based on shipments to dealers. Apparently, there’s nothing in the rule book that says those vehicles must be complete, or even saleable. Strange times, indeed!

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