Startling Projected Sales Numbers

This is what happens when there’s little supply and plenty of demand

By Gary S. Vasilash

Back in November 2020, the Centers for Disease Control determined, “The overall weekly hospitalization rate is at its highest point since the beginning of the pandemic, with steep increases in adults aged 65 years and older. Based on death certificate data, the percentage of deaths attributed to PIC for week 48 was 12.8% and, while declining compared with week 47 (18.6%), remains above the epidemic threshold.”

In other words, horrible times.

As we come forward to now, here is something that seems nearly inexplicable: J.D. Power and LMC Automotive estimate that new-vehicle retail sales in November 2021 will be 12.6% lower than they were in November 2020.

Thomas King, president of the data and analytics division of J.D. Power, explains, “For November—as has been the case since August—new-vehicle sales are being constrained by available inventory.”

Less to buy.

King continues, “Retailers continue to sell a large proportion of vehicles almost as soon as they arrive in inventory. This November, a record of nearly 55% of vehicles will be sold within 10 days of arriving at a dealership, while the average number of days a new vehicle sits on a dealer lot before being sold is on pace to fall to 19 days, a record low and down from 48 days a year ago.”

Think about that. A year ago vehicles were on lots for nearly 30 days longer than they are now.

And the people on the short end of the proverbial stick are customers. The research firms estimate that average transaction prices—the prices actually paid by people—will be $44,043, which is 18.1% higher than they were in November 2020.

As a result, the total retail profit per vehicle will hit a record $5,164, which is up $3,060 last year.

$5,164 now. $2,104 then.

And then there’s this:

Two years ago, November 2019, COVID wasn’t even on the radar of most people.

Yet the J.D.P.A. and LMC estimate that the total aggregate profit from new-vehicle sales in November 2021 will be 226% higher than in November 2019.

Keep that in mind when you visit the nearly empty lot of your local dealer. You might think they’re hurting. But that may not be the case.

COVID and. . .Seats?

Another consequence of the global pandemic

By Gary S. Vasilash

Apparently, when it comes to the material used for seats in vehicles, leather is the leader. However, according to the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Seat Quality and Satisfaction Study, fake leather, which goes by a number of names depending on the OEM (hint: if you’re in the showroom and you ask what that seat is made of and the name of the material sounds like something out of an episode of the Mandalorian, know that it isn’t leather), seems to be gaining some adherents.

Thanks to COVID.

“With a heightened sense of awareness to surface cleanliness due to COVID-19, synthetic leather seats lend themselves well to cleanability, but it is ultimately about providing benefits which address notable industry challenges such as providing durability, soil resistance and, most importantly, cost-effectiveness. Our study shows that synthetic leather out-performs cloth seating in select areas while offering benefits similar to those of leather.”

That’s Brent Gruber, senior director of automotive quality at J.D. Power.

Hyundai Elantra seats. (Image: Hyundai)

Clearly, cleaning is become all the more relevant nowadays.

In case you’re wondering what the top seats (and the manufacturers of said seats) are in the survey:

  • Mass market compact: Hyundai Elantra (Hyundai Seat Div.)
  • Mass market midsize/large car: Honda Clarity (Tachi-S Co.)
  • Mass market SUV & truck/van: Nissan Rogue (NHK Spring Co.)
  • Mass market midsize/large SUV: Chevrolet Blazer (Lear Corp.)
  • Mass market truck/van: Ram 1500 (Bridgewater Interiors)
  • Premium car: Porsche 718 (Lear Corp.)
  • Premium SUV: Lexus UX (Toyota Boshoku Corp.)

The EV Infrastructure Issue

Yes, people like fast and free. How do you build a business case on that?

By Gary S. Vasilash

“Public charging infrastructure is a key component in the overall adoption of electric vehicles by the broad population.

“Unfortunately, the availability of public charging is the least satisfying aspect of owning an EV. Owners are reasonably happy in situations where public charging is free, doesn’t require a wait and the location offers other things to do—but that represents a best-case scenario.

“The industry needs to make significant investment in public charging to assure a level of convenience and satisfaction that will lure potentially skeptical consumers to EVs.”–Brent Gruber, senior director of global automotive at J.D. Power.

J.D. Power has launched its first U.S. Electric Vehicle Experience (EVX) Public Charging Study, so Gruber’s observations are predicated on the responses of actual battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

Think about this:

  • People like free
  • People like fast
  • People like distractions

If energy providers are going to increase the speeds of charging, then this means they’re going to need to spend more money on their equipment.

So free and fast seem to be at odds.

And let’s face it: there is only so long that any business that wants to stay in business is going to be able to offer something for nothing.

As for the distractions, that goes to the point of the amount of time that it takes to recharge an EV.

Again, if the speed goes up, then the need for much in the way of distractions goes down.

(At a local bp station there are video screens on the pumps that play canned content that are high on the annoyance scale and subtractive on the info scale. Thank goodness it takes a brief period of time to recharge.)

Gruber noted: “Building a better infrastructure starts with more collaboration among automakers, charge point operators, site locations, utilities and government at all levels.”

All of which is to say that in order to get more EVs in more garages it is going to take more than having features that allow a vehicle to go incredibly fast or to maneuver like a crustacean.

Surprising Trends in Auto Retail

You spend a lot. And you may be willing to forego the dealer “experience”

By Gary S. Vasilash

According to the most-recent Cox Automotive/Moody’s Analytics Vehicle Affordability Index, the number of median weeks of income to buy a new vehicle is 37.

37 weeks to buy a new vehicle.

That’s the greatest number of weeks since they started measuring it back in 2012.

The firms found a trifecta of things contributing to this situation:

  • Vehicle prices increased
  • OEMs and dealers are putting less cash on the hood
  • Median incomes fell

It would have been worse, apparently. Financing rates decreased, so if that didn’t happen, there would have been higher monthly payments.

Gulp.

In May, the most recent month with figures, the average transaction price that people were paying for a new vehicle was $41,263 according to Kelley Blue Book.

Now admittedly that doesn’t mean that everyone pays that much. It wraps in figures for OEMs from Mitsubishi to Mercedes, from Chevy to Porsche. Cars, trucks, SUVs.

But still, a lot of money.

A lot of weeks to earn that money.

All that said, J.D. Power has announced that predicated on its analysis of the usage of OEM websites, 49% of vehicle shoppers are willing to purchase a new vehicle online.

This is an increase of 11% from 18 months ago—about the time that the effects of the pandemic kicked in in the U.S. market.

So what’s behind this:

  • Is it that people are more comfortable shopping for things online, as many of them have done during the past 18 months for everything from groceries to appliances?
  • Are more people simply questioning the visit to a dealer as being a necessity?
  • Is this a case where people go to a dealership, take the test drive, and then go home and search for a better deal?

Whatever the case, it is clear that there is a shift in how vehicles are going to be bought. And it is also clear that there is a shift in what people are willing to pay for vehicles.

Consider this: If you bought a new vehicle the first week of January this year, you wouldn’t pay it off until the week of September 10.

Sales Numbers Could Make One Swoon In June

J.D. Power and LMC Automotive see solid figures for June ’21 sales

By Gary S. Vasilash

J.D. Power and LMC Automotive have come out with their prediction for how June 2021 sales will come in, and the prediction is that it will be a 12.4% increase over June 2020—which isn’t all that surprising, given that in June 2020 we were still in the midst of the pandemic—and even a smidge, as in 0.3%, better than June 2019 (taking into account available selling days).

However, looking at the second quarter of 2021 in its entirety, things are rather robust, as in a 44.2% increase over Q2 2020 and a 10.7% increase over Q2 2019.

But there are some other figures that need to be taken into account.

One of those numbers is $38,088. That’s the average price of a new vehicle, which is a first half record according to the two organizations. It is a 10.1% (or $3,497) rise compared to the same period in 2019 and a 14.1% (or $4,699) increase over the number in 2019.

The average transaction price—as in what people actually pay for a vehicle from a dealer—is expected to be $40,206, a record high.

The organizations see retailer profits rise from $1,310 in the first half of 2020 and $1,457 in the first half of 2019 to $2,844.

Explains Thomas King, president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power, “Consumers are buying more expensive vehicles despite smaller discounts, which is dramatically increasing the profitability of those sales for both manufacturers and retailers.”

Although there is evident agitation on behalf of some of an economic bent regarding the rise in inflation, recognize that here are consumers who are buying big, which means that OEMs are going to make more expensive vehicles because they’re selling, which means that there will be a continued rise. . .

Until there isn’t.

2020 Sales Expectations: Not Bad. But Not Good.

12,386,000. That’s the number of new vehicles that J.D. Power and LMC Automotive estimate will be sold in the U.S. in 2020.

All in, this is a decline of 9.5% compared with 2019 sales.

Given COVID-19, surprisingly good.

What’s more, the average transaction price—that is, the price that people actually pay, taking cash back, incentives and other means to persuade people to buy—is expected to be $38,077, up 9% from 2019.

According to the researchers, because of the higher transaction prices, the vehicle manufacturers are not going to take quite as big a hit as the 9.5% decline in sales might lead one to expect: It is estimated that the total value of new vehicles purchased will be off just 4%.

December sales provide a bit of a boost because this is when luxury sales tend to make an upswing.

And for this particular December, J.D. Power and LMC calculate that trucks and SUVs—which generally have a higher sticker price than sedans—will account for 79% of all retail sales, up 4% from December 2019.

But here’s a question: is this a sustainable situation given the number of people in the U.S. who are currently unemployed?

According to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

“Among the unemployed, the number of persons on temporary layoff decreased by 441,000 in November to 2.8 million. This measure is down considerably from the high of 18.1 million in April”—good—“but is 2.0 million higher than its February level.” Not good.

“The number of permanent job losers, at 3.7 million, was about unchanged in November but is 2.5 million higher than in February.” Think of this: those people aren’t getting their jobs back.

“In November, the number of persons who usually work full time rose by 752,000 to 124.3 million”—good—“while the number of persons who usually work part time decreased by 779,000 to 25.4 million.” Not good.

Given the number of unemployed people, is it not likely that there were some people who, after the lockdowns were lifted, went out and bought a new pickup because they figured that they might as well?

While sales in 2021 will undoubtedly be better than 2020 (yes, a not particularly high bar), one wonders: How many people are going to find that their vehicle payments and their income just aren’t getting along very well?