Reflecting toll of COVID-19, FCA, GM sales both down over 30%

The mounting toll of the coronavirus pandemic on the auto industry was shown Wednesday when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and General Motors Co. said their sales dropped more than 30% in the second quarter amid a nearly nationwide shut down.

FCA on Wednesday reported a 39% year-over-year drop in second-quarter sales. GM reported a 34% drop. Ford Motor Co. delivers its sales on Thursday.

FCA delivered 367,086 vehicles in the second quarter, down from 597,685 in the second quarter of last year. GM delivered 492,489 compared with 746,659 in 2019’s second quarter. For the first half of the year, FCA’s sales are down 26%. GM’s were down 21%.

The sales reports come on the heels of an eight-week North American production shutdown by Detroit’s three automakers. The shutdown, from late March to mid-May, took place mostly in the second quarter and cost the companies billions.

Meanwhile, stay-at-home orders across the country kept customers out of showrooms, and crippled demand from fleet operators. One potential bright spot, FCA and GM both noted, is that retail sales that plummeted in April started to rebound in May and June.

“This quarter demonstrated the resilience of the U.S. consumer,” Jeff Kommor, FCA’s head of U.S. Sales, said in a statement. “Retail sales have been rebounding since April as the reopening of the economy, steady gas prices, and access to low interest loans spur people to buy.”

Less resilient, however, were commercial sales to customers such as rental car companies, Kommor said: “Our fleet volume remained low during the quarter as we prioritized vehicle deliveries to retail customers. As a result, we have built a strong fleet order book while we will fulfill over the coming months.”

GM also said sales are starting to show signs of recovery. GM’s retail sales were off by about 24% in the quarter. Retail sales in April were down the most in the quarter, off by about 35% compared to last year, but recovered significantly in May and June with year-over-year declines of about 20% or less.  

All of GM’s brands saw sales declines: Chevrolet posted a 34% decline; Cadillac a 41% decline;  Buick a 36% decline; and GMC a 33% decline.

Pickup truck sales were “resilient” for the Detroit automaker. Chevrolet Silverado light-duty sales came in at 89,465, down 18.6% from last year. Silverado heavy-duty sales were off just 0.7% with 31,279 sales. GMC Sierra light-duty sales came in at 38,825, down 9.5% from last year. Sierra heavy-duty sales were up 7.6% with 14,999 sales.

Sales of FCA’s Ram were down 35% in the second quarter. Sales of FCA’s Dodge brand, which includes models such as the Durango and Caravan, plummeted 63%, from 117,582 in the second quarter of 2019 to 43,757 in 2020.

FCA’s luxury Alfa Romeo brand — which makes up a relatively small share of the automaker’s overall sales — posted the smallest decline, at 21%. Jeep, FCA’s best-selling brand, was down 27%.

“Our resilient sales reflect an improving demand curve, and the strong efforts of GM and our retailers in unprecedented times,” said Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president, sales operations in a statement. “GM entered the quarter with very lean inventories and our dealers did a great job meeting customer demand, especially for pickups. Now, we are refilling the pipeline by quickly and safely returning production to pre-pandemic levels.”

After restarting plants the week of May 18, GM’s U.S. pickup truck and full-size SUV plants have returned to three shifts. Nearly all of GM’s car and crossover plants returned to the same number of shifts as pre-pandemic levels. The majority of GM’s U.S. plants, including all truck and SUV plants, will continue to operate during the traditional two-week summer shutdown.

To grow its inventory as quickly as possible, GM is working with logistics and trucking companies to ship vehicles as soon as they are produced.

Twitter: @JGrzelewski

Twitter: @bykaleahall

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