Tallying up US auto sales for Q1 2021 at long last, I was only slightly curious to see how they compared to Q1 2020 (and perhaps that’s why it took me so long). Clearly, with the US in lockdown for part of Q1 2020, it was just a poor quarter to compare to and this year’s sales were bound to be up quite a bit. Though, I had an idea — compared Q1 sales to Q1 2019 as well. Granted, comparing Q1 2021 to Q1 2019 isn’t perfect either — after all, auto purchases were delayed for so long in 2020 that Q1 2021 is probably unnaturally high, yet it’s all too hard to qualify — but it still offers a bit more perspective on US auto industry trends.
First of all, let’s start with the one fully electric automaker — Tesla. Among all brands, in terms of percentage growth, Tesla was #1 comparing Q1 2021 to Q1 2020 and also comparing Q1 2021 to Q1 2019. In terms of volume growth, it was #2 in both cases, only trailing Toyota.
As far as overall change in the auto market, Q1 2021 was 425,238 units above Q1 2020. That was a 13% increase. Comparing Q1 2021 to Q1 2019, sales were down 57,826 (-1%).
Here are visualizations of Q1 2021 versus Q1 2020:
Here are visualizations of Q1 2021 versus Q1 2019:
Aside from the notable improvements from Tesla and Toyota, plenty of other auto brands saw sales rise from 2020 to 2021 and even from 2019 to 2021. Perhaps more notable are the brands that have suffered. Even going from Q1 2019 to Q1 2021, Fiat, Infiniti, Dodge, and Mitsubishi are facing a strong decline. Not a good look. In terms of overall volume decline, Ford and Nissan took the most undesirable positions, followed by Dodge (again), Chevrolet, and Honda. Clearly, all of those auto brands are doing something wrong.
Looking at last year’s Q1 compared to this year’s Q1, things are a little different, but it’s primarily the same brands that are down the most. In percentage terms, it’s the same bottom four and almost the same order, with the worst declines hitting Fiat, Dodge, Infiniti, and Mitsubishi — in that order. In volume terms, though, the big losers were Dodge (poor Dodge), Chevrolet, Mitsubishi, and Infiniti, respectively.
What does the future hold? We’ll see. The US market can be odd. Toyota was one of the biggest losers in 2019, but it has clearly bounced back a lot. At the same time, Nissan, Infiniti, and Chevrolet have been down for years. Ford was the second biggest loser in volume terms in 2019 and Q1 2021 sales were lower than Q1 2019 sales.
The most interesting thing for me will be watching how well (or not) EV leaders do as the market shifts. Will they see an overall sales boost or will their fossil-powered models lose sales quicker than their electric-powered models ramp up? (Do “Bord” and others rightfully fear the transition, or should they jump into it?) For now, unfortunately, there aren’t any real EV leaders aside from Tesla to use to examine that matter. Maybe by Q1 2022 there will be.
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