Coronavirus pandemic tanks US auto sales in April

A customer looks at a newly purchased Toyota Motor Corp. vehicle at the Brent Brown Toyota dealership in Orem, Utah, on Monday, April 6, 2020.

George Frey | Bloomberg via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic caused drastic declines in U.S. auto sales in April, according to industry data released Friday.

Automakers such as Toyota Motor and Honda Motor reported sales last month were cut in half compared with April 2019, as dealerships across the country were forced to limit or close showrooms and consumers stayed away due to stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders.

Toyota and Honda led the declines with sales plummeting about 54% each last month. Hyundai Motor reported a 39% drop in its U.S. sales, while sister company Kia Motors reported a 38.3% decline compared with a year ago. Mazda Motor said sales declined 44.5% for the month. Subaru reported sales slid 46.6%.

The reported sales provide some perspective on the industry; the numbers were expected to decline about 53% in April, according to auto research firms Edmunds and Cox Automotive. The industry was expected to sell about 633,000 vehicles in April — the lowest amount in decades, according to Edmunds.

AutoData, which crunches monthly auto sales, says the pace of auto sales in April, at 8.6 million vehicles, was the lowest monthly sales rate since the firm started calculating the data in 1980.

General Motors, Ford Motor and other major automakers in recent years switched from monthly sales reports to quarterly reports, so their monthly numbers are forecasted.

Despite sales being down 53.9% in April, Toyota said its dealers’ sales of 84,696 vehicles surpassed its forecast of about 50,000 for the month.

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J.D. Power previously reported U.S. auto sales last month rebounded faster than initially expected when states started enacting stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders. The firm reports 24 states, which represent 44% of 2019 retail sales, allowed dealerships to remain open. The other 26 states, which represent 56% of retail sales, are allowing only online or remote sales.

When states initially started enacting the orders, some banned all sales, even online. Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Hawaii were the last states to remove bans on all sales last month.

Big incentives from automakers, record 0% financing offers and all states now allowing at least online vehicle sales contributed to the better-than-expected sales, according to officials.

“It’s a buyer’s market,” Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights, said. “And while there aren’t a lot of buyers right now, those in a position to purchase a new vehicle are taking advantage of the most generous financing programs we’ve seen this century.”

Automakers and industry analysts have drastically lowered their sales expectations for the year due to the coronavirus. J.D. Power expects U.S. auto sales this year of about 12.6 million to 14.5 million vehicles, down from an estimated 16.8 million prior to the pandemic.

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