Automakers and analysts spent much of March warning plunging sales were on the horizon in the wake of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic and the economic pain it has wrought over the past 20 days or so.
The moment of truth slowly arrived over the course of two days midweek as automakers publicly reported sinking sales figures for the first quarter overall.
Sales were down 20 per cent to 331,718 in the quarter, according to the Automotive News Data Center in Detroit.
Several provinces and municipalities across Canada have stay-at-home orders in effect. In most of those areas, dealer service operations are considered essential and have remained open to address vehicle needs for customers and government agencies. Some showrooms are also open, but it hasn’t been enough to sustain sales.
“As the full impact of the COVID-19 virus became apparent in mid-March, and dealers either were forced to shut down due to emergency measures enacted, or voluntarily shut down due to minimal consumer traffic, the impact on sales has been dramatic,” David Adams, head of the Global Automakers of Canada said in a news release. “The industry is trying to sustain itself and working cooperatively together and with governments to keep the service departments at dealerships open where possible.
“This will ensure that recall programs can be undertaken and that the vehicles of doctors, nurses, and other health-care workers and other essential service providers can be kept operational in a safe working manner.”
While the majority of automakers no longer report sales on a monthly basis, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc., estimates that March sales plunged 48 per cent because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The consultancy told The Canadian Press that March sales appeared to be “declining moderately” during the first half of the month, before provinces and municipalities started implementing stay-at-home recommendations and orders.
Scotiabank issued a dire warning for the industry Wednesday.
“Though auto dealerships in some provinces have been deemed essential, consumers are not out shopping,” the financial institution said in its Global Auto Report. “Only urgent replacement purchases and end-of-lease transactions are expected for the most part in the near-term. April sales declines could conceivably bottom out at around 80 per cent year-over-year as the virus continues to escalate over the month.”
Here’s a look at how some automakers fared during March and Q1:
FCA SINKS 19% IN Q1
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported Thursday that its first-quarter sales fell 19 per cent to 44,140 vehicles.
Unlike many other automakers, FCA Canada didn’t solely blame the decrease on the novel coronavirus pandemic, which really started to ramp up during March.
“The decline in the first quarter sales was largely attributed to the negative economic impact of the coronavirus in March and eroded an otherwise strong start in January and February,” the automaker said in a news release. “The majority of the decline can be attributed to a reduction in fleet sales of 28 per cent compared with results from Q1 of 2019.”
When it came to nameplates, not all vehicles suffered steep declines. Two flagship vehicles weathered the storm. Dodge Grand Caravan sales finished the quarter up two per cent at 8,408 while Ram pickup sales were flat at 19,179.
FCA on Thursday began offering no payments for 120 days on all 2019 and 2020 models, across all brands.
Moving forward, new FCA Canada CEO Dave Buckingham had a message for his dealers.
“We want to thank the dealers who have been able to remain open during these difficult times in order to ensure that all Canadians’ transportation needs are met, especially our nation’s first responders and health professionals," he said in a statement.
'UNPARALLELED HEALTH CRISIS' HITS FORD HARD
Ford Canada sales were off 14 per cent in the first quarter, with sedans taking the biggest hit as consumer shied away from the segment, and showrooms in general due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Ford sold 53,770 vehicles in the first quarter.
Like most automakers, Ford no longer breaks down sales on a monthly basis. The company sold just 3,033 cars during the first three months of the year, down 52 per cent from a year ago.
Truck sales were down nine per cent to 50,737.
Ford Canada CEO Dean Stoneley called the pandemic an “unparalleled health crisis.”
“The health and safety of our employees, dealers, customers, and partners remains our highest priority,” Stoneley said. “We have dedicated teams closely monitoring the latest directives and guidance from national and regional authorities. We are planning and acting accordingly, continuing to look at all aspects of our business operations.”
GM’S ‘SIGNIFICANT DECLINES’
General Motors Canada says its first-quarter sales fell 13 per cent, due mainly to the growing outbreak of COVID-19.
The automaker sold 48,201 vehicles during the first three months of 2020, down from the 55,260 sold during the same time last year.
The automaker reported 32,433 retail sales and 15,768 fleet sales during the first quarter.
While GM Canada didn’t report March sales numbers alone, the automaker did say in a statement that it experienced “significant declines at the end of the quarter due to the outbreak of the COVID-19/coronavirus.”
Many GM Canada dealers are providing sanitized environments and options for customers to shop online so they do not have to step into the showroom.
“In this uncertain and challenging time, we’re here and ready to help our customers wherever we can and in any way we can,” said Sandor Piszar, vice-president, sales, service and marketing, GM Canada. “GM and our strong network of dealers are available to support, whether it’s concerning repair, parts, connected services or financing needs.”
The company has also enabled OnStar Crisis Assist services for all connected-vehicle owners, as well as 3GB or three months of complimentary in-vehicle data — whichever comes first — for all Wi-Fi-equipped vehicles.
PORSCHE CITES ‘CHALLENGING TIMES’
Porsche Cars Canada sold 899 vehicles during the first quarter of 2020, down 42 per cent over last year.
Porsche Cars Canada CEO Marc Ouayoun in a statement described the current situation as being “challenging times.”
Dennis DesRosiers, president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, warned in mid-March that luxury dealers might be hit hardest by the pandemic because it ground the economy to a halt.
“One of the critical elements of a luxury purchase is what we call the wealth effect,” DesRosiers told Automotive News Canada on March 13. “You open up all your investment envelopes at the beginning of the month and you’re up by anywhere from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands on the year and you feel wealthy, which is a key element of the luxury market and vice-versa.
“Can you imagine opening up your investment envelopes the first or second week of April when they arrive? It would be terrifying and therefore you sit on your hands because you don’t feel wealthy.”
NISSAN DOWN 1/3 IN Q1
Nissan sales have fallen 35 per cent during the first quarter of 2020 when compared to last year.
The automaker sold 14,654 vehicles during the first three months of the year. March was particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 outbreak. Sales were down 68 per cent last month to 3,565.
Only the Nissan Kicks and the NV200 managed increases through the first three months, up 0.3 per cent and nine per cent, respectively.
On the luxury side, Infiniti sales were down 36 per cent in the quarter and down 69 per cent in March.
KIA, HYUNDAI DOWN NEARLY HALF
On a monthly basis, Hyundai Canada sales were down 44 per cent to 5,956 in March. Kia sales were off 43 per cent to 4,044 in the same month.
This report and sales chart will be updated.