Analysts believe auto sales fell roughly 30 percent in May compared with the previous year—a figure that easily could be seen as a win, given the very real stresses on the nation's economy from the COVID-19 pandemic, still-high levels of unemployment and widespread activism that began late in the month.
A full accounting of the industry's May sales wasn't available, as many auto makers have ended monthly sales reporting; the Detroit 3 and a number of other auto makers will disclose their second-quarter sales next month. But of the auto makers that did report May sales, U.S. deliveries fell 26 percent at Toyota Motor North America, 17 percent at American Honda, 13 percent at Hyundai, 19 percent at Subaru, 24 percent at Kia, 2.5 percent at Volvo and just 1 percent at Mazda.
While depressed fleet sales were a significant contributor to lower overall volume, retail deliveries—juiced by high incentives—continued to bounce back from end-of-March lows. In a letter to dealers obtained by Automotive News, FCA said its retail deliveries were off only 15 percent, though it didn't provide total sales for the month.
The seasonally adjusted, annualized rate of sales last month came in at 12.17 million, according to Motor Intelligence, above the range of forecasts—11.4 million to 11.8 million— from Edmunds, ALG and Cox Automotive, but substantially lower than the 17.4 million rate in May 2019. The SAAR fell to 8.6 million in April from 11.33 million in March.
Thomas King, senior vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power, pointed out that retirement-age buyers—those most susceptible to the most serious symptoms of COVID-19—largely are absent from the market, as are those whose low credit scores have locked them out of the most lucrative incentive offers. Meanwhile, middle-aged buyers are returning, but those who lease are not.
"Middle-aged consumers with good credit are what is keeping the recovery period going," King said.
And sometimes, the degree of pain being felt by consumers can depend on who they are and what they do, said Tom Doll, Subaru of America CEO.
"With all of the stimulus packages that are out there and the fact that, really, for most people alive, I would say their incomes really haven't been affected just yet because—with the money that they're receiving from the federal government—in a lot of white-collar positions, people really weren't laid off or furloughed," Doll said in an interview with Automotive News Publisher Jason Stein.
"Hopefully, the economy starts to open up quickly and some of the Northeastern states start to open up a little bit faster, too, so that we can get back to some level of normalcy and build this economy back up."