The July 2021 SAAR was 14.8 million units, roughly flat compared to July 2020, but down 12% from July 2019. SAAR was expected to fall for the third straight month, but this figure is lower than many experts predicted in June. As far as contributing factors to this slip, automotive manufacturers continue to struggle producing enough vehicles to meet insatiable demand that is emptying car lots around the country. Inventories continue to be drawn down and consumers are beginning to abandon their preferred color and trim selections as well as their preferred model and production year in favor of similar vehicles simply because they are actually available for purchase.
As we detailed in last week’s blog, retail sales have crowded out fleet sales with an estimated 90% of total sales volumes in July, and this trend is also expected to continue as dealers no longer need to sell larger blocks of inventory at discounted prices. Dealers are doing everything they can to get new cars in the hands of consumers, as elevated prices continue to boost profits on a per unit basis.
The average new-vehicle retail transaction price in July is expected to reach a record $41,044. The previous high for any month, $39,942, was set last month in June. Dealers are also capturing a greater share of these transactions prices as average incentive spending per unit, a measure of financial inducement used by manufacturers to motivate sales of specific vehicles, is expected to fall to $2,065, down from $4,235 in July 2020 and $4,069 in July of 2019. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate to skyrocketing costs for consumers as high trade-in values and low interest rates mean average new vehicle monthly payments of $622 in July are only up 6.4% while transaction prices have increased 17%.
Despite lower volumes, dealers are seeing record revenue levels as supply/demand imbalances have led to these surging prices. It also illustrates the relatively inelastic demand for consumers. Record vehicle prices have been noted across mainstream media outlets, yet customers continue to buy what little inventory dealers have. Consumers who can wait to buy a vehicle may be starting to hold off. But for those returning to the office in the wake of a public health crisis, there may not be many functional alternatives to personal vehicles. As noted above, monthly vehicle payments also haven’t surged as much as sticker prices.
The trends outlined above tell the story of what auto dealers have been experiencing for months now. Tight supply unable to keep up with demand are leading to a red hot market, and it looks like price and turnover metrics may continue to reach new heights until supply issues are alleviated.
Pickup Truck Market Share Stumbles
One effect that these current market conditions have had on the automotive industry involves sales of pickup trucks. According to Wards Intelligence, large-pickup truck market share was 13% of total sales in July 2021, down from 15.2% in July 2020. This was the lowest market share figure for the vehicle class since July 2016. In April of this year, Ford decided to prolong its production shutdown for the F-150 pickup truck, citing parts shortages as the primary cause. During this period of shutdown for Ford, General Motors pressed forward with its production of the GMC Sierra, mentioning the importance of its pickup truck sales to the firm’s bottom line. Ford was able to restart truck production in June, but the decision by General Motors to sink available resources into its truck models eventually resulted in its own forced production shutdown in late July.
Stories like these have dominated automotive news cycles over the last several months and it is not hard to believe that, despite the importance of pickups to the profitability of these firms, trucks are equally as hard to produce during this period of input shortages as other vehicle classes, particularly for the larger trucks as compared to other trucks and crossovers. Manufacturers are having to make decisions regarding which models to prioritize, and it seems like start-stop production has already become normal for most manufacturing plants around the country. Manufacturers are expected to continue to intermittently shut down truck production until automotive supply chains recover, while production of other best sellers are prioritized for weeks at a time.
With a more complete understanding of the lumpy nature of model-specific production during the last several months, it can be expected to see large swings in market share for under-produced vehicle classes. Shutdowns in April and May related to the F-150 and shutdowns in July and August for the GMC Sierra have resulted in fewer trucks hitting lots, and therefore less market share in the sale of all vehicles for an underrepresented truck class. For the ones that are sold, many may not even see lots as pre-selling has become increasingly important. Once the dust settles and the necessary inputs for vehicle production become more readily available, the market share for pickups is expected to normalize at historical levels or even expand in response to pent-up demand. Until then, expect volatility in metrics like market share going forward.
What To Expect? Forecast
Over the last three months, many experts have tried to predict vehicle production rates to no avail. Mercer Capital’s own December 2020 Forecast for the 2021 SAAR was in the range of 16 million units, quite bullish at the time. Looking forward to the end of supply shortages and heightened demand has proven a difficult task, and many previously bullish analysts are rolling back their expectations for a third quarter rebound. For example, the LMC Automotive forecast was reduced by 200,000 units on its last iteration. With more frequent announcements on manufacturing stoppages hitting the presses each week, the industry should not expect inventory levels to change much over the next month. With this in mind, total light vehicle sales are still expected to be around 16.5 million units in 2021.
If you would like to know more about how these trends are affecting the value of your auto dealership, feel free to contact any members of the Mercer Capital auto team. We hope that everyone is continuing to stay safe and healthy.