U.S. new-vehicle sales fell sharply last weekend as the impact from the coronavirus was "rapidly intensifying" and kept many shoppers at home, according to J.D. Power's Power Information Network.
The research firm predicted a 1.7 percent decline in the daily selling rate for the month, and the week ending March 8 went about as expected, with retail sales trailing the forecast by only 1 percent. But sales the next four days trailed the projected pace by 8 percent. On Friday and Saturday, the deficit was 20 percent. By Sunday, it was 36 percent below the baseline projection.
For all of last week, sales fell 15 percent more than projected, while deliveries in some markets, particularly on the West Coast and in areas such as Seattle and San Francisco, were down even more sharply.
Vehicle sales fell about 38,000 short of the baseline forecast through Sunday, and the drop is expected to get worse throughout March, said Tyson Jominy, vice president of Power Information Network operations.
Jominy said the sales decline escalated as more Americans became aware of the virus. The coronavirus also "shook a lot" of consumers as a more serious and legitimate issue when they learned celebrities such as Tom Hanks had been diagnosed.
"If Woody and Forrest Gump can catch the virus, than who among us is really safe?" Jominy said.
J.D. Power now forecasts March sales will drop as much as 41 percent from a year ago.
It had initially predicted U.S. sales of 16.8 million this year. But given the spread of the coronavirus, its new forecast is between 14 million and 16 million.