First-Quarter 2021 Sales Report: Genesis Sales Double, Most Other Brands Post At Least 20% Gains From Q1 2020

Some models picked up by leaps and bounds

2021 kia seltos awd
The Kia Seltos and other small, affordable vehicles saw huge gains in the first three months of 2021. (Photo: TFLcar)

Sales trends show a major improvement after a devastating year.

It’s not often I had the opportunity to say “there’s some good news” last year, but that does seem to be the case so far in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country in early 2020, and the first quarter sales reports were grim, to say nothing of the ones that followed later in the year. Across the industry, it seems sales have rebounded for most brands by at least 20% — a positive sign for a strong turnaround, lingering effects from coronavirus and ongoing supply chain issues notwithstanding.

As the numbers roll in through early April, we’ll continue to outline how each brand performed, as well as mention the most surprising models in either direction. When it comes to the best and worst models (by percentage shift over Q1 2020), one surprising trend emerged: A surge among less expensive models.

Brand sales: First-quarter 2021 (January through March 31)

BrandYTD 2021 SalesYTD 2021 SalesYear-over-Year Change
Alfa Romeo4,6463,703+25%
*Ford, GM, Honda, Nissan and Toyota brand sales figures include car and truck sales.
**Tesla sales figures are estimates.

Despite the global chip shortage, most automakers are still pulling out well ahead of where they were this time last year. Genesis is a particular standout, with their sales doubling from the first three months of 2020. At 8,222 units, it’s not quite the volume of BMW or Audi. Their revamped portfolio, not least of which the all-new GV80 SUV, did help seriously boost their sales, and in time Hyundai’s luxury division will likely be a stronger contender, pulling some sales away from the established European marques.

The story for the Big Three isn’t quite as clear-cut, though with the exception of Dodge and Fiat no American brand performed badly. You can best summarize Dodge’s case by the brand losing two strong-selling (if not entirely enmeshed with the brand identity) models: the Journey and the Grand Caravan. Fiat lost all its models except the 500X for this model year, so that undoubtedly hurt its already lackluster sales. Ford and GM as a whole largely held steady from last year, with Buick and Cadillac gaining some ground with their new offerings.

What about Tesla?

We’ve seen Tesla emerge as a runaway sales success, even in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, per Automotive News’ reporting, the company did manage a noteworthy 25% uptick in sales from this point last year. That figure is predicated on strong demand for the Model 3 and Model Y, as well as a greater push toward EVs. Even better, they have more exciting models coming like the Model S Plaid and the Cybertruck, but more competition is on the horizon as well. As always, Tesla will be one to watch as challengers like Rivian and “legacy” automakers join the electric fray.

While SUVs dominated sales charts in recent years, the first three months of 2021 showed a somewhat surprising shift toward smaller, more affordable cars. That trend may change later in the year, depending on the economic situation and fleet sales in the next nine months. (Photo: Buick)

Biggest gains and losses by model

There’s an interesting split when you look at first-quarter sales figures by model. Small, more affordable cars fared extremely well, as did some luxury models like the Acura MDX and Cadillac Escalade. For the former, those brands that conduct fleet sales (like Nissan and Subaru, for example) showed strong performance among their less expensive models. That could well come down to fleets replenishing their inventories with new cars, as they start to spend and people start to travel again. Retail sales are up as well, though, so more buyers in the general public look to be leaning toward new compact offerings as well.

This chart looks at gains and losses from a percentage shift, instead of a sheer number of units. When a model like the Honda HR-V doubles its sales from 2020 (again, you can probably thank fleet sales for that), it shows a more significant gain than if an already popular model like the larger CR-V sold as many more cars.

This sales report isn’t totally complete, as of April 2. Check back as more automakers release their numbers.

BrandBiggest gainBiggest loss
AcuraMDX: 8,782 (+311%)NSX: 7 (-56%)
Alfa RomeoStelvio: 2,557 (+34%)4C: 24 (-23%)
Audie-tron: 3,474 (+103%)A8: 441 (-20%)
BMW2 Series: 5,307 (+200%)Z4: 195 (-69%)
BuickEncore GX: 18,435 (+609%)
(new model)
Encore: 6,229 (-56%)
CadillacEscalade: 9,842 (+75%)XT5: 8,773 (-3%)
Chevrolet*Corvette: 6,611 (+73%)Sonic: 1,065 (-76%)
ChryslerPacifica: 34,342 (+40%)300: 5,394 (-4%)
DodgeDurango: 20,560 (+15%)Caravan: 1,709 (-93%)
FiatNone (no models gained)500: 4 (-99%)
Ford*Explorer: 65,244 (+16%)Fusion: 7,889 (-79%)
GMC*Yukon: 18,458 (+31%)Terrain: 16,917 (-33%)
HondaHR-V: 11,625 (+203%)None (no models lost)
HyundaiTucson: 15,744 (+159%)Veloster: 272 (-67%)
InfinitiQX50: 6,425 (+54%)QX60: 3,315 (-63%)
JeepWrangler: 49,646 (+25%)None (no models lost)
KiaSeltos: 16,786 (+332%)Cadenza: 155 (-68%)
Land RoverTBATBA
LexusLC: 238 (+325%)GS: 7 (-96%)
LincolnNavigator: 4,832 (+26%)MKZ: 1,238 (-64%)
MazdaCX-30: 14,589 (+74%)CX-3: 1,513 (-41%)
Mercedes-BenzGLB: 7,081 (+47%)S-Class: 1,043 (-56%)
MiniConvertible: 810 (+40%)Clubman: 509 (-13%)
MitsubishiMirage: 6,932 (+49%)Eclipse Cross: 1,583 (-69%)
NissanVersa: 22,394 (+84%)370Z: 28 (-95%)
PorscheTaycan: 2,008 (+909%)
(new model)
Panamera: 451 (-62%)
SubaruCrosstrek: 35,187 (+64%)Impreza: 9,115 (-11%)
ToyotaMirai: 869 (+491%)Yaris: 131 (-95%)
VolkswagenArteon: 1,099 (+39%)Passat: 5,981 (-24%)
VolvoV60: 13,415 (-1%)S90: 12,044 (+68%)

Update 4/8/21: Added Mercedes-Benz and Volvo figures.