New Vehicle Sales Plunge as Chip Shortages, Production Cuts, Low Inventories Drag On. Back Where They’d Been in 1979

Toyota, whose sales plunged less than GM’s and Ford’s, was #1 in Q1.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

Amid ongoing chip shortages and other shortages, production halts, and depleted inventories on dealer lots, auto sales in the US, as measured by the number of vehicles delivered to end users, plunged 25.9% in March compared to March last year, and by 22 % compared to March 2019, to 1.25 million vehicles.

In Q1, sales fell by 15.8% from Q1 2021 and by 17.7% from Q1 2019, to 3.28 million vehicles, the worst Q1 since 2011.

In terms of the number of vehicles sold, the auto industry hadn’t grown in two decades before Covid, with the huge trough of the Financial Crisis in between. But since early 2021, supply-chain issues dogging the industry have been triggering on-and-off production halts at various plants around the world. And these production halts are continuing into April – though automakers are saying that components are starting to flow a little better. Q1 sales were right back where they’d been in 1979.

What has kept the industries revenues growing over the decades are higher prices, and this is hugely important now, with unit sales down so far. Higher retail prices are a mix of factors: More expensive models, higher MSRPs, and lower incentives by automakers. Multi-decade low incentives by automakers contribute to the weird phenomenon that many buyers are paying over sticker.

Buyers spent $45.7 billion on new vehicles in March, according to JD Power estimates. But this was down by $6.2 billion from March 2021, as higher prices alone weren’t enough to overcome the plunge in sales.

Production keeps getting slammed. For example, today GM halted production of its Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 at the Fort Wayne Assembly plant in Indiana for two weeks due to the semiconductor shortage.

When GM announced the plant shutdown last week, it said that chip supplies have improved so far this year. But there’s “still uncertainty and unpredictability in the semiconductor supply base, and we are actively working with our suppliers to mitigate potential issues moving forward.”

GM also said that production at its Lansing Grand River plant will be halted all week due to supply chains issues this time unrelated to semiconductors. The plant makes the Cadillac CT4, Cadillac CT5 and Chevrolet Camaro.

Ford halted production for the whole week, starting today, at its Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan, due to the semiconductor shortage. Production at the plant, which produces the Mustang, was already halted multiple times this year.

Toyota said that it would cut global vehicle production by 17% in April. Other automakers have similar supply chain problems.

Toyota reported on Friday that in March it sold 194,178 vehicles, down 23.5% year-over-year. In Q1, it sold 515,592 vehicles, down 14.7% year-over-year. Despite the massive drop, these sales plunged less than the sales of GM and Ford, and this made Toyota the largest automaker in the US for Q1, a hair ahead of GM.

GM, which reports sales only quarterly, said on Friday that its Q1 sales plunged by 20.1% year-over-year to 512,846 vehicles, with retail sales dropping further, and fleet sales rising 10% year-over-year. This put GM once again behind Toyota.

GM said that production has increased since the end of September. Inventory on dealer lots and in transit have risen to a still very low 273,760 vehicles, but that was up from 128,757 units at the end of Q3 last year, and up from 199,662 vehicles at the end of Q4. GM expects inventories to “remain relatively low,” it said.

Ford reported today that its sales in March plunged by 25.6% year-over-year to 159,328 vehicles. Fleet sales (mostly to rental fleets) picked up, but retail sales plunged 30.1% year-over-year. For Q1, sales plunged by 17.1% to 432,132 vehicles

Given the inventory shortages, customers have taken to ordering vehicles and waiting for months. Ford said that retail customers ordered 50,000 F-Series trucks in March. F-series deliveries in March, given the supply issues, were only 44,906, including fleets. In other words, Ford’s backlog of F-Series retail orders grew during the month.

FCA, a unit of Stellantis, reported on Friday that its sales in Q1 plunged 14% to 405,221 vehicles. FCA owns the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Fiat, and Alfa Romeo brands. By having plunged only 14% in Q1, sales outperformed the industry, “despite being impacted by the existing supply chain constraints facing our industry,” it said.

You’re here doesn’t report US sales at all. It only reports global sales, which jumped 68% to 310,048 vehicles in Q1, thanks to its new factory in Shanghai, “despite ongoing supply chain challenges and factory shutdowns,” Tesla said. For Q2, production has started at its plant in Texas and at its plant in Germany. But its factory in Shanghai was shut down on March 28, and remains shut down today amid the Covid lockdown in Shanghai.

It’s amusing to note that Musk has been eerily submissive to authorities in China that imposed the lockdown in Shanghai, and he has been mouse-quiet about it, in contrast to his big-mouth defiance in the US when authorities attempted to do the same during the lockdown in California. He sure knows how China’s authorities deal with billionaires that attempt to usurp its power structure – and not a thing from him about “free speech” in China, LOL.

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