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Coronavirus: Catastrophic Sales in March for Car Manufacturers

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The beginning of each month in the automotive industry is a time to pour over last month's sales figures. Our mailboxes quickly get flooded with data provided by carmakers. We always take a quick look, but rarely is there much worth reporting on.

This extraordinary time represents an exception to this, because the figures for the month of March are unlike anything we’ve seen before. They do not constitute a surprise, but they are absolutely unprecedented.

Now, to ensure we’re comparing apples with apples, the figures we're giving you are for the first three months of the year in Canada. Why is that? Because a number of manufacturers have stopped publishing their monthly sales, preferring to report only quarterly.

We'll include some monthly numbers where available. All of the data points to the same, predictable fact: March was a catastrophic month at the retail level, with most Canadians confined to their homes for much of the last two or three weeks.

Here’s a look at the current state of the industry:

Overall sales for Q1 2020 are down 20% in comparison with last year.

The BMW Group recorded a 30.3% drop in sales since the beginning of the year. This percentage climbs to 36.6% at Mini.

For Ford, the decline is 13.6%, while at Lincoln the drop is 18.7%.

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Photo: D.Boshouwers

At GM, the picture is as follows, by brand; down 12.8% for Buick, 24.9% for Cadillac, 17.3% for Chevrolet and 3.9% for GMC. The company's overall balance sheet is down 12.8%.

There’s little cause for joy at Honda and Acura, which recorded decreases of 31.2% and 32.8% respectively.

Genesis, Hyundai and Kia posted negative results of 17.8%, 15% and 15.2%, respectively.

British automaker saw its sales plummet by 24.8%. The situation is somewhat better at Land Rover, with a drop of 11.1%.

As for Mazda, sales are down by 18.7%; other decreases recorded were 22.2% at Mercedes-Benz and 24.5% at Mitsubishi.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Over at the Nissan Group, which had already been experiencing significant declines for the past few months, the figures are staggering; 50.3% for Infiniti and 36.4% for Nissan.

At Subaru, sales fell 12.7%; at Lexus, 13.1%; and at Toyota, 18.6%.

Audi saw its sales drop by 22.5% while Porsche recorded a 41.1% decline. Volkswagen and Volvo closed with declines of 22.3% and 29.1%, respectively.

Any good news stories in all. Relatively, yes. Tesla's sales are up 10% in 2020, the result of a strong start to the year. And certain luxury brands have weathered the storm well so far: Bentley is up 10% (albeit 60 to 66 vehicles), Lamborghini up 4.1% (147 to 153 models), McLaren up 10% (90 to 99 units) and Rolls-Royce up 10.5% (57 to 63 vehicles).

Not a bad time to be ultra-wealthy, it seems.

Looking at the month of March alone is an exercise in despair: Infiniti is down 81.1%, Nissan 64.4%, for example. Hyundai and Kia, two brands that have been on the upswing in recent years, saw their results drop by 44% and 43%, respectively, in March alone.

And the numbers will be worse in April, for sure. Some analysts are predicting an overall decline of 80% for the industry.

No question, the industry is going to need help to recover from this pandemic. Many who had planned to change their vehicles during the year will be forced to postpone their purchases.

This is a historic, tragic moment, but the industry will recover; those folks holding on to their vehicles longer will eventually buy new ones. Optimism is the key here.