Global Auto Sales Down 26%, By More Than 6 Million Units, In 1st Quarter

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A couple of weeks ago, I published a report showing US new auto sales were down 496,600 in the first quarter of 2020 (compared to the first quarter of 2019). That seemed like a stunning, jaw-dropping drop in auto sales. Looking at the global auto sales story, though, the 496,000 drop looks like peanuts. In the same period, new auto sales were down by more than 6 million units globally. According to JATO Dynamics, the world market declined 26% in Q1 2020 compared to Q1 2019.

March is when the steep drop kicked in. They were down 39% that last month of the quarter, dropping from about 9 million in Q1 2019 to 5.5 million in Q1 2020. That was the biggest drop in sales for a single month since 1980. The peak of the global financial crisis in November 2008 saw a decline of “only” 25%.

The Euro-27 was down the most in March, dropping by 848,800 units year over year, or 52%. “Registrations fell in all 27 markets, but with varying severity,” Green Car Congress writes. “Markets were significantly hit in Italy, France, Spain, Austria, Ireland, Slovenia, Greece and Portugal, where the combined volume fell from 634,600 units in March 2019 to 161,800 units last month.”

There were a couple of bright spots in the market, and that’s where cleantech comes in. “The lowest decrease in registrations was recorded by midsize cars (D segment) and this can be explained by positive results reported by Tesla Model 3, which was Europe’s second-best-selling car in March.” Additionally, “Audi and Mercedes increased the registrations of their E-Tron and GLE by 86% and 213% respectively,” the former being a fully electric SUV.

“By fuel type, electrified vehicles were able to increase their registrations by 15% to 147,500 units in March, posting a new record market share of 17.4%, or 10.1 percentage points higher than seen in March 2019. Contrary to the trend in 2019, the growth was not driven by Tesla. The positive results came as a result of more electrified vehicles from Mercedes (+44%), Volkswagen (+240%), BMW (+15%), Hyundai (+25%), Volvo (+79%), and Suzuki, among others.”

Those figures include sales of conventional hybrids, but one final piece of good news is that the plug-in portions of that group are what drove the growth. Conventional hybrids declined 11%. “Indeed, the BEV figures were only 10,000 units less than the hybrids. The Volkswagen e-Golf, Audi E-Tron, and Volkswagen e-Up, posted impressive results for BEVs in March. The new arrivals like the Mini electric, Peugeot 208-e, MG ZS and others accounted for 17% of all BEV registrations.”

While China and South Korea, two major auto markets, got hit with covid-19 quite early, had strong responses, and then had V-shaped recoveries, Europe was hit later in the first quarter and is having a slower recovery and the US was even behind Europe (and seems to be recovering more slowly). It’s unclear how the second quarter numbers will compare to first quarter sales. It’s certain to be another horrible quarter for the auto industry, but the question is whether it will have slid deeper into the sales ditch or will show some ascension out of it.

I do expect that plug-in vehicles will continue to solidly outperform the market, but they may have a harder time in the second quarter than they had in the first. Many electric vehicles were ordered further out, and thus benefited from a stream of deliveries from orders that came in before the coronavirus hit. Decreases in their sales due to weaker consumer demand and lockdowns may have been delayed as well. We’ll see. In the meantime, CleanTechnica published its report on European plug-in vehicle sales in April just yesterday, and the cleaner portion of the auto market continued to have much to boast about. Plug-in vehicles hit 11% market share in April! That record result pulled up plug-in vehicles’ 2020 year-to-date share to 7.8%, double the 3.6% of the same period in 2019.

See more EV sales reports.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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