Q1 Sales Surprises

Yes, customers are back. But some of what they’re buying is surprising.

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although it was April Fool’s Day when the first quarter 2021 numbers for U.S. sales were announced by OEMs, the smiles were real in offices across the land as the SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual rate) rose to approximately 16.5-million units, or about a 12% sales increase compared to Q1 2020, which, of course, contained the first month of the pandemic in America.

2021 Toyota Prius Prime. There was a 70.6% sales increase for the model in Q1 2021. Who saw that coming? (Image: Toyota)

This wasn’t supposed to happen

Plenty of people who seem to have a particular affection for liking the use of fossil fuel and has therefore been gloating over the fact that Toyota Prius sales have been dropping must have gotten a surprise. Despite that fact gasoline prices have been low for the past several months and still under $3.00 per gallon ($2.85 in the U.S. as of now, according to the Energy Information Agency), Prius sales rose 22.4% in Q1, to 14,050 units. (For a not apples-to-apples comparison: Chevy sold 7,089 Camaros during Q1.)

What is more striking is that all Toyota hybrids had a combined 152% increase, to 125,318 units. (“Thank you, RAV4,” they must be saying down in Plano.)

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The Big Three?

Remember when that was General Motors, Ford and Chrysler?

GM is still big. Overall sales of 642,250 vehicles.

The other Two, however:

Ford, including Lincoln, had sales of 521,334.

FCA, including Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, had sales of 469,651.

Toyota, including Lexus, 603,066. That’s a lot more than either Ford or FCA.

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This wasn’t supposed to happen, 2

Everyone knows that (1) sedans are nearly dead in the market and (2) economical vehicles are so 2010.

Nissan, including Infiniti, had a good first quarter, with overall sales of 285,553 vehicles, which is a 10.8% increase over Q1 2020.

But there are two absolute standout vehicles in the Nissan lineup:

  • Versa: 22,394 vehicles, or an 83.9% increase
  • Sentra: 37,238 vehicles, or a 55.9% increase

Admittedly, crossovers like the Kicks (24,421 units) and the Rogue (86,720) were big contributors, the fact that the Versa and the Sentra did so well ought to make some analysts reconsider that whole “Cars are on life support” position.

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This puts March 21 vs. March 20 in perspective

In March 2020 Hyundai delivered 35,118 vehicles.

In March 2021 Hyundai delivered 75,403 vehicles.

That is a 115% increase.

Still: Wear a mask.

Ford, Mahindra and FCA

“The global economy and business environment are not the same as October last year [2019].” That is what Ford spokesman T.R. Reid told Reuters as part of the explanation of why the automotive joint venture that Ford was going to be crafting with Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd. has been called off.

October 2019 was when the companies announced they would be forming a JV that would focus on the development of vehicles especially for emerging markets.

COVID-19 has had an effect on those markets as well as, well, all markets. Consequently, the no-go between the two companies.

Ford has operations in India including the Chennai Vehicle Assembly Plant, Sanand Vehicle Assembly Plant, Sanand Engine Plant and Chennai Engine Plant.

India is part of Ford’s International Markets Group (IMG), which spans “100 emerged and emerging markets.”

Ford plans to operate in a status quo mode in India for the time being.

It should be pointed out that Ford’s current approach is to evaluate its operations the world over; it is “allocating capital in ways that advance Ford’s plan to achieve an 8% company adjusted EBIT margin and generate consistently strong adjusted free cash flow.”

Which is a heavy lift, even in a non-pandemic world.

Mahindra did have some good news of late, in that in late December the International Trade Commission decided that the 2021 Roxor—off-road vehicle, as in one that is not street-legal—doesn’t infringe on the “trade dress” of the Jeep Wrangler.

FCA, not surprisingly is not happy. Also not surprisingly, FCA is going to appeal.