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Auto Sales in May Show Slow Recovery as States Reopen

Colin Beresford
Photo credit: Spencer Platt

From Car and Driver

  • Sales numbers for May suggest that the auto industry is on its way to recovering after dismal sales in March and April.
  • Trucks were a strong point for the automakers that reported May sales data.
  • This story will be updated as more automakers report May sales.

The month of May saw a return to some semblance of normalcy for the auto industry, with factories restarting production, dealerships reopening, and customers regaining interest in—and the ability to—buying cars. The dwindling group of automakers which still report monthly sales evidence that the worst of the downturn may be behind the industry.

Toyota, the largest of those to release May sales data, saw a year-over-year drop of 25.7 percent and more dramatic drops across its passenger car lineup. Nonetheless, a strongpoint for the brand was its trucks; the 4Runner, Tacoma, and Tundra all saw sales increases of between 8.2 and 10.3 percent. The C-HR, the smaller of the crossovers offered by the automaker, saw sales increase by 12.7 percent. Nonetheless, of note is that month over month, Toyota saw a significant recovery in sales with a rise of 94.9 percent.

"We can safely say that April was the bottom for auto sales during the coronavirus pandemic," Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds executive director of insights, said in a note. "There's still a long road to recovery ahead, but May auto sales are a really encouraging sign for the industry. The unprecedented deals broadcast by automakers and dealers really did the trick in getting more consumers to reenter the market, social distancing and all."

Edmunds projected sales drops in May of around 30 percent for most major automakers, including Ford, General Motors, and FCA, with the industry as a whole slumping 32.5 percent in May. The industry analyst estimated in April that that sales had fallen 52.5 percent.

Hyundai had sales fall 12.9 percent compared to May 2019. Drops were seen among its smaller offerings, while the Tucson was nearly in line with its sales last May. "We were able to achieve a remarkable retail sales rebound thanks to our dealer partners, implementation of digital retail tools and providing customers with the right offers," Randy Parker, vice president of national sales at Hyundai, said in a statement. "Our inventory pipeline is in a good place as Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama has been up and running since May 4."

Mazda, which sells in low volumes in the U.S., had a drop of 1 percent in May. The automaker's sales were largely cushioned by its trucks—a category that at Mazda includes the CX-3, CX-30, CX-5, and CX-9—with gains of 10.1 percent year over year.

The uptick in sales from last month comes as automakers are reeling back the incentives they unrolled beginning back in March to keep sales from falling too dramatically. As Cox Automotive notes, incentives in May of this year were lower than they have been in the last two years particularly due to inventory being depleted with factories idled.

States across the country have eased the stay-at-home orders put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, according to the New York Times, which has allowed dealers to reopen floors to customers.

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