Other automakers did not report monthly sales in October, and industrywide fleet volume continued to be depressed, down 27 percent last month compared with a year earlier, though it was up 6.6 percent from September, according to data compiled by Cox Automotive. Morgan Stanley estimated that total industry sales were down 2.5 percent year over year, with European brands collectively down 6.6 percent, Asian automakers off 4.6 percent, and domestic automakers up 0.5 percent.
Overall, October's SAAR was 16.4 million vehicles, according to Motor Intelligence.
With new-vehicle sales still down from last year, dealership profitability — and automaker profitability — is being driven largely by the ugly discipline imposed on the industry this year by the pandemic, said Brian Finkelmeyer, senior director of new-car sales solutions at Cox Automotive.
"COVID is showing us that price is no longer the winning play," Finkelmeyer explained. "The winning play is having the right quantity and quality mix of inventory. It's just a fact: Dealers with bigger inventories capture more online shopping attention. Also, the dealers best at inventory management are earning 'em by turning 'em."
Finkelmeyer said dealerships have learned to be more efficient with less personnel and are spending less on advertising and holding costs.
In addition, incentive costs are way down — $3,678 per vehicle in October vs. $4,953 in April — because of strong demand.
"This is why the business is so good for dealers right now," Finkelmeyer said. "COVID has been a crash course in efficiency and inventory management."