Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the change in August U.S. sales at Honda Motor Co., Honda and Acura.
Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Hyundai, Subaru and Mazda posted lower U.S. sales last month as some quirks in the reporting calendar and ongoing challenges from the pandemic disrupted the industry's steady rebound.
Sales among automakers that reported Tuesday ranged from a gain of 13 percent to a decline of 23 percent in a month that was heavy with "yeah, buts." High among them was the fact that in August 2019, sales over the Labor Day weekend were counted as part of the August tally. This year, they will belong to the September record. In addition there were two fewer selling days last month than in the year-earlier period.
The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate came in at 15.18 million, Motor Intelligence said, slightly above forecasts. It marks the fourth-straight month of recovery since the anemic 8.66 million recorded in April, but well below the 17.1 million sales pace of August 2019.
"The selling rate in August demonstrates that there is base-level demand for new vehicles and dealers are finding ways to close deals and deliver product," Cox Automotive Senior Economist Charlie Chesbrough said. "The market is far from recovered, but considering the overall economic conditions, it is healthy.”
Company by company
Volume dropped 23 percent at Toyota, reflecting ongoing inventory shortages, with sales down 25 percent at the Toyota division and 9.5 percent at Lexus. Overall, Toyota Motor said car deliveries fell 27 percent and light-truck demand dropped 21 percent.
American Honda reported a 22 percent decline in U.S. volume, with August sales off 23 percent at the Honda division and 10 percent at Acura.
At Hyundai, volume fell 8 percent, ending a brief, one-month run in the winning column. Crossover deliveries rose 6 percent while car demand skidded 27 percent, Hyundai said.
In July, Hyundai’s sales advanced less than 1 percent as the company recorded its first monthly increase since February.
The automaker continues to benefit from strong retail demand for crossovers, notably for newer models such as the Palisade and Kona, in another sign the market is bouncing back from the worst of the coronavirus outbreak.
Retail sales slipped 2 percent, Hyundai said, while fleet deliveries dropped 63 percent, representing just 4 percent of August volume.
“Despite a down market, our SUVs continue to drive sales and deliver results for us and our dealers,” said Randy Parker, vice president for national sales at Hyundai Motor America.
Subaru, another brand hobbled by tight supplies and what it called uncertainty surrounding the economic recovery, said deliveries slipped 17 percent last month, its second-smallest decline of the year. Still, the brand's sales have now topped 50,000 four consecutive months and the August tally -- 57,885 -- marks a high for the year.
“Our retailers are continuing to sell at very high levels of sales efficiency given their on-ground inventory levels," Thomas Doll, CEO of Subaru of America, said in a statement.
Volume dropped 6.1 percent at Kia, the brand's second-smallest decline this year after a 1.7 percent dip in July.
“Despite fewer selling days year-over-year, retail sales made up the overwhelming majority of our August business and will continue to do so moving forward,” Bill Peffer, vice president of sales operations at Kia Motors America, said in a statement.
At Mazda, volume dropped 5.1 percent in August, with car demand off 29 percent, and crossover volume rising 3.3 percent, largely behind the new CX-30.
Among other luxury brands, Volvo sales rose for the third consecutive month with August volume rising 13 percent. It is the brand's second-best showing of the year after an 18 percent gain in February. Genesis, which remains solely dependent on cars until the GV80 crossover hits showrooms this fall, posted a 23 percent decline.
U.S. light-vehicle sales were forecast to fall about 20 percent in August, based on estimates from Cox Automotive and LMC Automotive.
Volvo is also expected to report August results later Tuesday. The rest of the industry discloses sales quarterly.
Depleted inventories, high unemployment, reduced household spending, sinking consumer confidence as well as lower incentives remain a drag on the market, analysts say. Factory shutdowns that lasted as long as eight weeks continue to be reflected in low dealership inventories, even as more shipments arrive daily.
Toyota, Lexus, and BMW each had less than a 40-day supply of vehicles in late August, far below the current industry average of 60, Cox Automotive said.
And nearly 45 percent of all new vehicles sold in August will spend fewer than 20 days on dealer lots, up from 35 percent last year, J.D. Power estimates.
Average incentives fell to $4,105 last month from $4,154 in August 2019, J.D. Power said. ALG estimates incentives last month rose 5 percent to $3,902 from $3,716 in August 2019. (See chart below.)
- There were 26 selling days last month vs. 28 in August 2019.
- The average incentive on cars was expected to rise $22 to $3,709 in August, while discounts on trucks, crossovers, SUVs and minivans were forecast to drop $99 to $4,226, J.D. Power said.
- Driven by truck demand, the average U.S. transaction price for a new light vehicle was $38,635 in August 2020, Kelley Blue Book said, an increase of $1,442, or 3.9 percent, from August 2019, and up $72, or 0.2 percent, from July.
- Fleet shipments were expected to total 141,900 in August, down 34 percent from August 2019. And fleet volume was expected to account for 11 percent of total light-vehicle volume, down from 14 percent a year earlier, J.D. Power said.
“The global auto sales recovery is accelerating. … Wild cards for the remainder of the year include the U.S. presidential election, financial stimulus programs and any specific vehicle purchase incentives, so uncertainty is still at an elevated level.”
-- Jeff Schuster, president of Americas operations and global vehicle forecasts at LMC Automotive.
“Supply and inventory are still expected to be a challenge in high demand segments going into the fall, due to factory shutdowns this past spring. Additionally, a potential second wave of shutdowns during the fall and winter seasons remains a concern.”
-- Sara Richards, Kelley Blue Book analyst