The U.S. light-vehicle market continued to roar back in May, but can the rebound last amid dwindling supplies?
Automakers that reported monthly results on Wednesday chalked up increases in the 40, 50, 60 and 70 percent range from pandemic-strapped totals a year earlier.
Ford Motor Co.'s May sales rose 3.7 percent, with the Ford division advancing 3.6 percent and Lincoln up 5 percent, the company reported Thursday.
But sales of Ford's F series, its biggest and most profitable product line, slumped 29 percent in May, reflecting chronically tight microchip supplies that have forced the company to idle output of the large truck for weeks at a time.
With May's strong results, analysts say the U.S. auto industry entered June with a 23-day supply of vehicles -- a record low -- down from a 33-day supply to start May and a 61-day supply at the start of June 2020.
In another sign of the market's broad strength, among companies releasing monthly sales, only Ford and Subaru posted weaker results last month compared to May 2019.
Among the big winners in May was Toyota Motor Corp. Its U.S. sales soared 47 percent as car demand nearly doubled. The advances came despite severe supply-chain disruptions that have sharply depleted the company's inventory heading into June. The company's volume last month was also 9 percent higher than May 2019.
After rising 170 percent in April, Toyota Motor's light-truck sales rose 30 percent in May, in line with the company's first-quarter results, even as dealer stockpiles of core crossovers fall.
Volume rose 47 percent at the Toyota division and 49 percent at Lexus last month.
But the Toyota brand is starting June with just an 8-day supply of vehicles, while Lexus has a 12-day supply, Bob Carter, executive vice president for sales at Toyota Motor North America, told Automotive News on Wednesday.
The difference for Toyota right now "is throughput," Carter added. "We still have cars coming in."
Honda Motor Co. set an all-time monthly record with May sales of 176,815, a rise of 46 percent. Deliveries rose 76 percent at Acura, and 43 percent at the Honda brand, which set a May volume record on record light-truck deliveries -- 93,362 units -- for any month.
Some U.S. Honda dealers say they are selling key vehicles faster than the company's factories can replace them, and that some models, such as the Ridgeline pickup, are out of stock.
Hyundai and Kia, deftly navigating the supply crunch that has upended the industry as the economy reopens in the wake of the pandemic, set U.S. sales records for the third straight month in May, helped in large part by robust retail demand for light trucks.
Volume jumped 56 percent to 90,017 at Hyundai and 75 percent to 80,298 at Kia, compared with May 2020, when the nation was still hunkered down in the early months of the outbreak. Kia noted "significantly accelerated showroom traffic" over the Memorial Day holiday as consumer activity rebounds and restrictions on households lift.
Hyundai said retail demand also set a monthly record of 84,351 in May, for a gain of 54 percent. Fleet shipments increased 95 percent and represented 6 percent of total volume, or about 5,400 units, Hyundai said.
“Consumer demand across the Hyundai lineup remains strong and we continue to work closely with our manufacturing and supply chain partners to meet this extraordinary demand,” Randy Parker, senior vice president for national sales at Hyundai Motor America, said in a statement.
A Hyundai spokesman said Wednesday the company's new-vehicle stock at U.S. dealers dropped 26 percent to 91,249 cars and light trucks from the start of May to the beginning of June.
Subaru volume rose 8.8 percent to 56,558 last month with Jeff Walters, head of sales for the company's U.S. arm, indicating the global microchip shortage "continues to impact production and inventory levels throughout the auto industry.”
Volvo said May sales rose 39 percent. At Genesis, deliveries jumped 176 percent to 3,728, a monthly record for the luxury upstart. Genesis launched sales of the GV70 crossover last month and the brand's two utility vehicles outsold combined volume of its three sedans. The GV80 set a monthly record with 2,037 units sold.
Mazda, one of the few automakers to post a gain in 2020, said May volume rose 69 percent to 42,187. The rest of the industry releases U.S. sales on a quarterly basis.
U.S. light-vehicle deliveries were forecast to continue a sharp rebound in May – up nearly 40 percent according to projections -- even as inventories continue to fall because of tight microchip supplies. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said Thursday the market advanced 42 percent in May and LMC Automotive pegged the month's gain at 43 percent.