US Auto Sales Down By 1.5 Million In 2nd Quarter, Amplifying Long Trends

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US auto sales, as we all know by now, took a massive hit in the second quarter of 2020. After collecting the sales data of 31 auto brands (almost all of them), I decided to dig in a little deeper — and further back in time — to try to get a better sense of trends and which companies are facing particularly challenging mid- to long-term circumstances.

First of all, regarding the second quarter, the sales of every automaker I track (excluding only a few niche ones that don’t report sales in a clear or regular fashion) were down compared to the second quarter of 2019. No surprise there. People locking themselves in their homes like hermits and auto factories shutting down or producing ventilators and masks is not the most conducive trend for going to a car dealer and buying an expensive mode of transport.

The Q2 2020 Sales Collapse

In the charts below, you can see which automakers had the worst second quarter in terms of total sales volume drop (first chart) and percentage drop (second).

Let’s just quickly touch on the unfortunate big losers. In terms of volume, Ford, Toyota, Chevrolet, Nissan, and Honda saw their sales volume decrease by staggering amounts year over year in quarter two. In fact, most auto brands literally couldn’t see their volumes drop that much, since they didn’t sell as many vehicles on a quarterly basis as those brands lost from Q2 2019 to Q2 2020. Of the remaining 26 brands, 19 didn’t have Q2 2019 sales over 100,000.

So, of course, that also means that looking at volume sales change is an inherently biased way to look at things. Let’s move on to percentage change.

Looking at percentage change from Q2 2019 to Q2 20120, the five biggest losers were Dodge, Mitsubishi, Chrysler, Fiat, and Nissan. As you may have noticed, there’s one brand that was on both lists. (Yikes.) I’ll come back to that in a little bit, as well as the fact that three of the brands on this “top 5” are from the same overall automotive corporation — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). (Also yikes.)

Tesla “Sales”

One more brand probably worth highlighting here before going into deeper historical context is Tesla. It may surprise many readers to see Tesla’s US sales down 41%, putting it in the “top 10” of worst relative drops in sales year over year. Overall, Tesla sales (deliveries) only dropped by about 5,000 units year over year, from 95,200 in Q2 2019 to 90,650 in Q2 2020. However, most of those deliveries were in China (where production was up significantly) and Europe. Subtracting those large markets and an estimate for a few other much smaller ones, Tesla’s US deliveries dropped from 54,700 in Q2 2019 to 32,189 in Q2 2020. (Again, these are only our own estimates, not official company data, but they are highly informed based on Tesla’s official global numbers and registration data from dozens of other countries.)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk emphasized on the last Tesla shareholder call that Tesla definitely doesn’t have a demand problem — the company has far more demand than supply — so, as always, the sales data doesn’t give us any actual insight into demand. We only know it was greater than what was delivered. That goes for the US  as well as the world as a whole. Nonetheless, I think it’s generally been assumed that Tesla’s US deliveries didn’t drop as sharply as they did year over year, especially since, historically, US deliveries have typically accounted for about half of the company’s sales. The timing of Tesla Giga Shanghai ramping up as COVID-19 was hitting the US was a bit of a serendipitous savior for the Californian auto company.

Pre-Q2, Most Automakers Were Hurting Already

Quarter two was bad. We get it. Covid. However, those who have been following CleanTechnica for at least a year, or who have been following auto sales closely elsewhere, know that the world wasn’t unicorns and rainbows for the US auto market before the coronavirus either. In fact, it has been looking pretty nasty for a while.

Referencing reports for Q1 2020 sales and 2019 sales, I’m going to look a bit more closely at which companies seem to be hanging on by a thread in the United States in a longer term basis. I almost didn’t look at Q1 2020 data since that was also part of the coronavirus era and almost every auto brand saw their sales drop. Only Tesla, Ram (slightly), and Lincoln (slightly) were up. However, since I’m mostly comparing brands, Q1 seems as valid as the others, and since I’m thinking a lot about current and near-term automaker challenges/crisis, Q1 is especially relevant.

Before getting to company-specific commentary, the top 5 losers in terms of volume in each of those quarters were as follows (links to the charts at the top of the bullet point lists):

Q1 2020

Volume drop (worst to least worst)

  • Nissan: -99,488
  • Ford: -74,505
  • Honda: -63,149
  • Toyota: -37,523
  • Jeep: -30,134

Percentage drop (worst to least worst)

  • Mitsubishi: -52%
  • Fiat: -49%
  • MINI: -35%
  • Buick: -35%
  • Nissan: -30%


Volume drop

  • Nissan: -116,624
  • Ford: -83,237
  • Toyota: -43,128
  • Infiniti: -31,572
  • Chrysler: -25,699

Percentage drop

  • Fiat: -41%
  • Chrysler: -23%
  • Alfa Romeo: -23%
  • Infiniti: -21%
  • MINI: -17%

Looking at all of these data, a few brands and auto corporations stand out as particularly stressed.

Clearly, Nissan is in a staggeringly bad position. It had the biggest volume drop in sales in 2019 and in Q1 2020, and it had the 5th biggest in Q2 2020. Also, Nissan was in the “top 5” for both volume losses and percentage loss in both 2019 as a whole and Q2 2020. The only other auto brands to suffer the same dual-ranking in any of these time periods were Nissan Motor Company’s luxury brand, Infiniti, in Q1 2020 and 2019 as a whole, and Chrysler in 2019.

Ever since Japan jailed former CEO and Chairman Carlos Ghosn (seemingly, without just cause), Nissan has been doing horribly, especially in the US. Given its performance over the past year and a half, it would not surprise me if the company dropped a big bad news bomb in the second half of 2020.

FCA has also had consistently disastrous results in the United States. Three of the automaker’s brands — Fiat, Chrysler, and Alfa Romeo — took gold, silver, and bronze for worst percentage sales losses in 2019. As already noted, Chrysler was also in the “top 5” for volume losses last year.

Fiat was also #2 for percentage loss in Q1 2020, while Jeep was #5 in volume losses that quarter.

And in the most recent quarter, Dodge (#1), Chrysler (#3), and Fiat (#4) came close to nabbing another gold, silver, and bronze for FCA. None of the company’s auto brands were in the top 5 for volume losses, but Dodge, Ram, and Jeep placed #6, #7, and #8.

FCA also may be in a downward spiral it can’t survive.

Ford is the final suffering automaker I’m going to highlight. It was #2 in volume losses in 2019, #2 in volume losses in Q1 2020, and #1 in volume losses in Q2 2020. Not a good trend. Its sales were down more than 200,000 in the second quarter, year over year. That’s after they were down by 83,237 in 2019 compared to 2018.

How quickly can Team Edison get the Mustang Mach-E and electric Ford 150 to market and scale up production of these new models? How many people will want to buy them? Will they turn around this struggling icon of US automotive history?

Of course, we haven’t actually dug into the finances of these companies here. The sales drops are scary enough for one day. Perhaps we’ll tackle finances another day.

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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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