New car sales rose last quarter despite ongoing chip shortages

Automakers on Thursday reported a rebound in first-quarter U.S. sales from a coronavirus-induced slump last year, but numbers were dulled by a global chip scarcity that forced many companies to cut production.

The need for increased personal safety during the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted sales for automakers, as people prefer to travel by their own cars to using public transportation.

However, the semiconductor chip shortage and severe winter weather in southwest United States in February have caused automakers to shut factories, turning analysts cautious about the speed of the sector’s recovery in 2021.

Ford reported a 1% uptake in overall sales for the quarter, emphasizing a strong resurgence of F-Series sales, which had been more tepid for much of 2020. Ford has reduced half-ton production in recent weeks due to the silicon shortage, but we’ll have to wait until July to find out whether that will have a measurable impact on deliveries, which sit at 203,797 for the year so far. 

General Motors said its first-quarter U.S. sales rose 3.9% to 642,250 vehicles, helped by increased demand for its Escalade sport utility vehicles and Encore subcompact crossover SUVs. The No.1 U.S. automaker said it estimates that the seasonally adjusted annual sales pace for the first quarter of the year was around 16.7 million units.

Despite the solid numbers, GM did have one noteworthy stumble: Silverado sales dropped 12.5%, while its sister model, the GMC Sierra, enjoyed an almost-19% bump. That sounds like it should be a wash, but the Sierra’s comparatively lower volume means it was still a net-negative quarter for GM’s full-size pickups. Between the two nameplates, GM has moved 189,508 Silverados and Sierras so far this year, vs. 197,743 in Q1 ’20. 

Stellantis likewise checked in with good news. While a couple of its brands are down a bit compared to a year ago, Ram, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler and Jeep all reported sales gains. The full-size Ram lineup got a 16% lift, making it the second-best-selling full-size nameplate (counting Silverado and Sierra separately). 

Mazda reported a 23% upswing in sales for the quarter, with essentially no bad news on its sales chart apart from still-slow sales of the Midsize Mazda6 sedan. Sales of the Miata and CX-30 crossover nearly doubled compared to the same period last year. 

Nissan said its U.S. sales rose nearly 11% to 285,553 vehicles in the quarter, while Hyundai Motor’s U.S. sales jumped about 28% to 167,130 vehicles.

This article includes reporting from Reuters.

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