Q1 Vehicle Sales: Just the Beginning of Story

As the full-scale coronavirus shutdown began in March, the US automotive market for the first quarter began telling the story of a wild ride ahead in 2020.

March is historically the first quarter’s strongest month and the impact of the shutdown’s timing delivered a significant blow right when auto sales begin their annual ascend into spring and summer. As such, the first of many double-digit year-over-year numbers began hitting ledgers.

The Big 3 domestic automakers all declined in unit sales, and most of the ten highest-volume brands reported enormous year-over-year declines during 2020’s first quarter. Brands gaining share included Tesla, Ram, and Kia.

Given the current health and economic crisis, most of the numbers we’ll see in 2020 will serve as a massive aberration as the market gradually reopens, transforms, and recovers.


Some key points from the 1st Quarter:

  • A total of 3.48M units were sold for the quarter which was off -12.5% versus the first quarter of 2019.
  • Tesla (+72.5%), Kia (+1.0%), and Ram (+2.5%) posted year-over-year increases among major brands during Q1.
  • The biggest laggards for the quarter included Nissan, Honda, and Dodge.
  • Light trucks continued their dominance, representing over 70% of new vehicle sales. This continues a multi-year trend.
  • Economic support for the auto market took a big hit, including employment, wages, and production.

As 2020 unfolds, prior projections have been scrapped as the market works through transition and transformation in response to the lockdown. As the consumer returns to the market, the biggest concerns will focus on pent-up lease returns, production, inventory availability, and regional timelines.

In response, ESA is hosting a series of Thought Leadership Now market updates via webinar and video updates. Your best bet is to follow #ESACarKeys through social media (LinkedIn) or the Car Keys section of ESAROI.com.

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SAAR: Seasonally adjusted annualized (sales) rate.
Source: ESA Car Keys 360 Data Studio. NADA Market Beat | 2020.

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