- the auto industry enjoyed a strong quarter with sales bolstered by the ever-increasing popularity of trucks and suvs, but various small sedans also saw sales increases.
- inventory has been shrinking through the quarter but has not yet strongly hindered new-vehicle sales, according to some analysts.
- sales numbers look even stronger when compared to the same period a year ago, as the covid-19 pandemic took hold and constrained sales in the first quarter of 2020. nonetheless, these healthy numbers give reason to believe the industry could see strong sales through the rest of the year.
the first quarter of 2021 has brought strong sales results across the auto industry, with new-vehicle sales up more than 8 percent compared to the first quarter of 2020. some automakers, including toyota, hyundai, nissan, subaru, and kia, enjoyed sales growth in the double digits.
granted, the numbers look good in part when compared with 2020's first quarter. the very tail end of that quarter was affected by the onset of the pandemic, when many statewide restrictions were enacted. cox automotive estimates that 2021 auto sales so far are actually down 4.9 percent when compared to the first quarter of 2019.
but as jessica caldwell, senior director of insights at edmunds, noted in a release, the sales numbers are nothing to scoff at: "first-quarter sales are starting off on a strong note. the fact that we're surpassing last year's numbers when the pandemic didn't even hit the industry until the last two weeks of march 2020 is no small feat.”
first-quarter sales took place against a backdrop of falling inventories related to a worldwide semiconductor shortage. that said, while there have been lower inventories across the industry, the lack of vehicles on dealer lots hasn't yet impacted buying levels in a meaningful way, according to cox. that could change in the second quarter of this year.
results by automaker
in the first quarter of 2021, toyota saw its sales increase by 22 percent, with strength particularly in its truck and suv divisions. the rav4’s sales grew by 17 percent, and the tacoma's sales went up by 24 percent. on the luxury side, sales of the lexus rx—lexus's most popular vehicle—were up 34 percent.
while toyota has been operating with low inventories for months now, the japanese automaker has very low inventory levels on some of its more popular vehicles. the tacoma has 21 and 25 days of inventory for the two-wheel and four-wheel drive models, respectively, and the rav4 hybrid has 32 days of inventory, according to cox.
general motors finished the quarter with a sales increase of 4 percent; much like the year that preceded this quarter, retail sales were up 19 percent while fleet sales fell by 35 percent. gm saw notable growth among all divisions, with the exception of chevrolet. cadillac sales grew 23 percent, while buick sales increased by 35 percent, largely thanks to the encore gx.
ford's sales were up 1 percent through the first quarter, and as at gm, total sales were weighed down by falling fleet sales. retail sales grew by 23 percent. ford’s trucks and suvs saw sales grew by 5 and 14 percent, respectively. cuts to the car lineup weighed on overall results—much as it has for the past year—but the popularity of the new bronco sport and the electric mach-e cushioned those declines.
stellantis—which was formerly fca—had sales increase by 5 percent through the quarter. jeep, ram, and chrysler all saw their sales jump by at least 8 percent. there were 16 percent more ram pickups sold this past quarter than in the first quarter of 2020, along with 25 percent more wranglers and 10 percent more grand cherokees.
honda saw its best month ever in march, and through the quarter saw sales increase by 16 percent. honda's trucks and suvs were up by 34 percent through the quarter, with the cr-v up by 32 percent and the pilot by 32 percent. in march, honda and acura's sedan sales performed well, with the brand, as a whole, up 44 percent for the car division.
hyundai's sales jumped by 28 percent in the first quarter, thanks in part to a 115 percent increase in sales in the month of march—the company's best month ever. hyundai is a bit of an outlier in how well its sedans have performed. in the truck/suv category, hyundai's most popular vehicles this past quarter, the tucson and santa fe, saw sales increase by 40 and 44 percent.
hyundai’s corporate sibling kia also saw its best month ever, while sales grew by 16 percent through the quarter. sales of the telluride and sportage, the automaker's two most popular suvs, increased by 30 and 12 percent respectively. kia's small sedan and second-most popular vehicle in the first quarter, the forte, sees consistently high sales, and this past quarter was no different as sales grew by 11 percent.
nissan, which has struggled in the u.s. for the past few years, saw its sales increase by nearly 11 percent in the first quarter. the rogue, which is new for 2021, saw sales grow by 45 percent, and the sentra had sales increase by 56 percent. in general, nissan's sedans also performed well through the quarter.
for subaru, the first quarter brought sales increases of 23 percent and an increase of 102 percent in the month of march. the forester, subaru's most popular vehicle, saw its best month ever in march and through the quarter had a 22 percent increase in sales. the other strong performers in the subaru lineup, the outback and crosstrek, had sales jump by 27 percent and 64 percent, respectively, in the first quarter.
volkswagen sales were up 21 percent through the first quarter, largely due to vw's larger offerings, including the tiguan and atlas. the tiguan's sales increased by 23 percent, while the atlas's were up by 35 percent.
mazda's sales were up 23 percent through the quarter, largely thanks to the cx-5, which had sales increase by 15 percent. the cx-30's sales jumped by 74 percent, and mazda's smaller offerings, including the mazda 3 and the miata, also performed well through the quarter.