Enlarge /. Now may be a good time to buy a car if you need one and still have a job.
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On Wednesday, the auto industry began reporting its first quarter 2020 sales results. The outlook for the industry wasn't particularly good even before the worst pandemic in over a century, and in 2019 new car and truck sales fell 1.3 percent in the U.S. However, these results look positively rosy compared to the first quarter of 2020.
General Motors reports that sales in the first three months of the year decreased about 7 percent compared to the same period last year. At Fiat Chrysler, the decrease was 10 percent. Toyota's sales decreased 9 percent. Subaru declined 17 percent in the quarter. Volkswagen sales declined by 13 percent, at Audi by 14 percent and at Porsche by 20 percent. BMW sold 15 percent fewer cars in the first quarter of 2020 than in the first quarter of 2019, and even 35 percent for Mini. Nissan had a similarly bleak quarter, declining 30 percent year over year.
Not everyone did it so terribly. Mazda's sales were down just 4.5 percent in the first three months of the year, and Kia was actually able to increase sales by about 1 percent, although Korean stablemate Hyundai saw an 11 percent decline in the first quarter of 2020.
However, the real impact of COVID-19 on the industry was felt mostly in March, and these numbers are far more ugly. Sales of new cars and trucks decreased 40 to 50 percent last month compared to March 2019, with brands reporting sales with this granularity.
In response, the industry is trying to tempt buyers with lower interest rates and even longer loan terms, and many dealerships remain open, even when auto factories in the U.S. and around the world are closed and cities and states place protection orders. Although we don't have a crystal ball, no supernatural forecasting skills are required to predict that the second quarter of 2020 will look significantly worse.