May 2020 Sales Report: U.S. Auto Sales Are Showing Encouraging Signs After Plummeting In April

We're still a long way off from a full recovery, but early signs are looking up

May 2020 Sales Report: U.S. Auto Sales Are Showing Encouraging Signs After Plummeting In April
Despite the pandemic’s effect on sales, the new Hyundai Palisade continues to perform well in the brand’s lineup. [Photo: Hyundai]

As coronavirus and stay-at-home orders wracked the U.S. economy, auto sales for most manufacturers plummeted by nearly half (sometimes more) in April 2020. Now, as some automakers report May 2020 sales, there are some encouraging signs that the industry is starting to pick back up. During the worst of the crisis, automotive firms embraced online sales and historically generous incentives to get people into new cars and trucks. That effort drew a substantially better picture for May, as companies beat earlier estimates suggesting the worst effects of the COVID-19 crisis on sales would linger through the summer.

Most automakers in the industry have moved to quarterly sales reporting, so we won’t see the true extent of the last three months’ impact on the industry until July 1.

Note: We will keep updating this post with sales information, so check back soon for more!

May 2020 Sales Report: U.S. Auto Sales Are Showing Encouraging Signs After Plummeting In April
As Elantra sales fell by half in May, the Tucson was virtually unaffected, and came out as Hyundai’s best-selling model last month. [Photo: Hyundai]

Hyundai, Genesis report stronger than expected sales

Among all the automakers that shut down in the wake of the crisis, Hyundai was unique in that its supply chain wasn’t severely disrupted by plant shutdowns. The brand sold 57,619 vehicles in May alone, a drop of 13 percent from 66,121 units in May 2019. That is still a decline, but it’s much better than even Hyundai was expecting. The company’s U.S. sales fell 39 percent in April 2020, and forecasts called for a similar 33 percent drop in May. However, the picture wasn’t all rosy as fleet sales fell a whopping 79 percent, as rental companies in particular pulled back their new car purchasing to stay afloat.

Genesis, for its part, reported sales of just 1,350 units in May. That’s a 42 percent drop from last year, while its year-to-date sales totaling 6,111 cars is down 25 percent. Mind you, the brand is also changing over to the new G80 from the previous generation and introducing the GV80 crossover, so customers may be holding off there. Genesis has experienced a rocky start as it worked to establish an identity and build out its dealer network, and that’s before coronavirus hit the U.S. Now, the brand’s North American president Mark Del Rosso is confident sales will beat expectations in the second half of the year.

May 2020 Sales Report: U.S. Auto Sales Are Showing Encouraging Signs After Plummeting In April
The Volvo XC40 did surprisingly well in May, even as the brand’s other cars lost some ground on the sales chart from May 2019. [Photo: Volvo]

Volvo sees a boon thanks to the XC40

In a time where the rest of the industry took a battering, Volvo seems to have rebounded with astounding speed. Brand sales were down just 2.5 percent from May 2019, with 9,519 units sold. Contrast that against April 2020 sales, where Volvo (in line with the rest of the industry) took a 54 percent hit in its sales figures.

One particularly interesting shift happened not just with the brand’s overall sales, but how each model performed compared to its stablemates. As expected, the XC90 is still the overall best-selling Volvo in the United States. That said, as the model’s sales fell by 4 percent, the little XC40 crossover actually improved its sales by 34.4 percent from May 2019. Volvo offered strong incentives like zero-percent financing on the XC40, and its lower starting MSRP of $33,700 likely wooed buyers who wanted a crossover, but didn’t necessarily want to spend substantially more on an XC60 or XC90.

Mazda’s CX-30 helped stem the flow of lost sales across the rest of the brand’s lineup. [Photo: Mazda]

Mazda is (nearly) back to normal figures

In May 2020, Mazda shifted 24,933 vehicles, which is down just 1 percent. Last year, the medium-volume automaker managed to move 25,192 cars. The company did have new product to move thanks to the CX-30, which stemmed the flow of what could have been another disastrous month for the brand. It sold 3,583 units last month, while the CX-9 and MX-5 also improved substantially from last year. The MX-5 Miata’s sales were up 30.7 percent (1,102 units), while the CX-9 rose 20.8 percent (2,421 units).

Now, Mazda’s cash cow CX-5 did decline by 13.6 percent in May to 12,140 units sold. That more or less followed the trend of the model’s year-to-date sales since January, but that’s not nearly as bad as numbers looked in April. Sales of the Mazda3, Mazda6 and the aging CX-3 were also down by 32.2, 30.8 and 29.1 percent respectively. Despite the Mazda3’s redesign, it hasn’t been selling particularly well this past year, while the Mazda6 is due for an overhaul, and the CX-3 may end up getting the ax thanks to the CX-30’s presence in the lineup.

Honda and Acura sales double from April

Fortunately, it seems Honda and its luxury marque also had a much better outcome in May than in April. Last month, Honda moved 110,636 cars while Acura sold 10,341. That amounts to a 16.2 percent and 23.7 percent decline from May 2019 respectively, but still better than when both brands lost half their sales the month before.

As ever, crossovers stemmed the flow for both brands, as the Honda Passport actually made a slight gain (3 percent; 3,536 units) in May 2020 from this point last year. On the Acura side, the RDX crossover suffered the least out of all models, selling 4,427 units (down 18.2 percent from May 2019). The Honda CR-V was still a relatively steady seller for Honda, as the company still moved 29,023 examples in May, down 6.1 percent from this point last year.

We’ll have a more complete sales picture in July, but for now auto sales seem to be on the mend. Sadly, as some 40 million Americans filed jobless claims through the end of May as a result of COVID-19, it’s far too early to declare a complete recovery as those who would otherwise participate in the new car market can no longer afford to buy vehicles. Automakers have implemented payment programs to help those who lose their jobs, but those initiatives may not continue to float new car sales through the summer.