Light-Vehicle Sales Return to Pre-pandemic Range in September – Robert Hughes (10/07/2020)

Sales of light vehicles totaled 16.3 million at an annual rate in September, continuing a rebound from the 8.7 million pace in April (see chart). The pace of sales in April was the lowest on record since this data series began in 1976 and follows a run of 72 months in the 16 to 18 million range from March 2014 through February 2020. Unit vehicle sales fell significantly below the range as the 2008–9 recession began, hitting a low of just 9.0 million in February 2009. Sales began a slow recovery and returned to the 16 to 18 million range in March 2014, about 5 years after hitting the low (see chart).

For the month of September, light-truck sales totaled 12.6 million at an annual rate, up 8.2 percent from the 11.6 million rate in August but well ahead of the 6.7 million rate in April. Car sales also had a solid gain, rising 5.7 percent to a 3.7 annual rate versus 3.5 in August and 2.0 in April.

The light-truck share stood at 77.1 percent for September, below the 77.9 percent record high in May, but still completely dominating the car share of 22.9 percent. The dominant share of light-trucks continues a long-term trend. As recently as February 2013, the split between cars and light-trucks (SUVs and pick-up trucks) was about even, with both segments selling about 7.76 million at an annual rate.

Breaking down sales by origin of assembly, sales of domestic vehicles rose to 12.8 million units versus 11.9 million in August while imports rose to 3.6 million from 3.3 million in the prior month. The pace of sales for domestic light-vehicles was slightly below the recent range of 13 to 14 million (see chart).

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