Depressed fleet demand continues to hobble the overall demand for new vehicles, leaving the seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales in January 5.5% behind year ago levels, according to new estimates by analysts.
Conversely January retail sales are expected to increase slightly, according to TrueCar. U.S. retail deliveries of new cars and light trucks are forecast to see an increase of 0.4% from a year ago when adjusted for the same number of selling days. However, that increase isn’t going to be enough to offset the impact of the depressed fleet market.
TrueCar, the car-buying help service, expects the total SAAR to drop to an annual rate of 15.9 million units from 16.8 million units in January 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the car business into a tailspin.
“Consumer activity has kept the vehicle market on a strong recovery path in recent months. Retail sales, which generally account for four-out-of-five vehicles sold in the U.S. market, are expected to remain strong in January,” noted a report from Cox Automotive.
The Cox report said positive economic news, coupled with improving consumer confidence, is helping rebuild both interest and ability to buy.
“Entering 2021 with retail sales in line with last year is a big win for the automotive industry,” said Nick Woolard, lead industry analyst at TrueCar.
“However, while retail sales have rebounded, rental fleets remained depressed and continue to interrupt fleet sales. As a result, fleet sales are struggling to come back to pre-pandemic levels and are driving total unit sales down,” Woolard said.
In addition, the average transaction prices for new vehicles are projected to be up 4.2%, or $1,509, from a year ago but down 4.5%, or $1,759, from December 2020. TrueCar projects that U.S. revenue from new vehicle sales will reach approximately $39 billion for January 2021, down 4.4% from a year ago.
“The automotive industry continues to reap the benefits of continued strength in retail demand with lower incentive spend.
“A handful of brands such as Ford, Genesis, GMC, Ram and Toyota, appear to be in the coveted quadrant of both retail growth as well as incentive decline. This is mostly driven by new product and being in the right segments or a combination of the two,” added Woolard.
Woolard said average transaction prices have finally come down from the record-setting highs we saw last month but are still higher than this time last year. Of the top carmakers, only Kia has an average transaction price below $30,000, TrueCar reported.
Alain Nana-Sinkam, vice president of Industry Insights at TrueCar, said the trend is most likely to continue so buyers are going to adjust their buying process in response.
“As new vehicle prices rise, we may see more price-conscious shoppers gravitate back towards smaller segments or the used car market due to growing concerns around affordability.”
Fleet sales for January 2021 are expected to be down 23.7% from a year ago but used vehicle sales for January 2021, which are critical for setting the price of leases on new vehicles, are expected to reach 3.2 million, up 1% from a year ago and up 10% from December 2020.