Second wave of coronavirus infections halts auto sales rebound

Early reports from U.S. auto manufacturers support predictions of drastically reduced retail sales in November, as the coronavirus pandemic’s resurgence prompted American buyers to self-isolate. 

Ford, which resumed reporting monthly figures starting in October after only reporting quarterly for nearly two years, backed up analysts’ expectations with Wednesday’s report of a nearly 17% drop in retail sales compared to November of last year, despite strong performances of its Super Duty pickups, the Explorer, Transit and Lincoln Aviator. 

Per Ford’s own predictions, the U.S. market shrank by 15% in November, with an industry-wide drop of 12% in retail and 25% in fleet, the latter of which continues to suffer thanks to non-existent rental demand. Government and commercial fleet sales have rebounded, Ford says, while rentals remain down nearly 90% compared to 2019. 

Auto sales in the United States had managed to bounce back since hitting a pandemic-fueled bottom in April, leading major automakers to ramp up production and boost weak inventories at dealerships. However, rising COVID-19 cases in the U.S. states have increased the uncertainty over a speedy rebound.

The seasonally adjusted annualized sales figure for light vehicles dropped to 15.55 million units in November, from 16.21 million units in October and 17.09 million units in the year-ago period, according to Wards Intelligence. Still, that is nearly double the 8.58 million units marked in April, when the sales pace hit its lowest since December 1970 due to pandemic-led lockdown restrictions.

U.S. manufacturing activity slowed here in November, with new orders retreating from their highest level in nearly 17 years, as many workers stayed at home and factories were temporarily shut down, according to the Institute for Supply Management.

(This article contains reporting by Reuters.)

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