Coronavirus tanks GM, Fiat Chrysler’s first-quarter auto sales as pandemic shutters dealerships

A row of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan vehicles are displayed for sale at a car dealership in Moline, Illinois, on July 1, 2017.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and other automakers saw their sales slide during the first quarter as consumers shelter in place at home and dealerships stay closed to try to contain the coronavirus outbreak spreading across the U.S.

GM on Wednesday reported a 7.1% decline in sales during the first three months of the year, while Fiat Chrysler, earlier in the day, said sales slid 10.4% during that time. Porsche and Hyundai Motor also reported steep declines. 

Auto sales for all companies were expected to be healthy to begin the year, but then fell off a cliff due to COVID-19 in March. J.D. Power expects auto sales to decline at least 32% in March compared with a year ago. Edmunds forecasts sales to fall 35.5% this month, capping an 11.8% decline in the first quarter. Cox Automotive, citing the “volatility of the U.S. economy,” decided not to provide a sales forecast.

The COVID-19 outbreak hit the industry hard in March, GM said.

“In this uncertain and challenging time, GM and our strong network of dealers are here to help, offering concierge service, providing courtesy transportation to customers in need and offering home delivery where permissible,” said Kurt McNeil, GM U.S. vice president of Sales Operations, in a release.

Fiat Chrysler said “strong momentum in January and February was more than offset by the negative economic impact of the coronavirus in March,” which is typically the strongest sales month of the quarter.

Despite the volatility, Fiat Chrysler’s hot-selling Ram truck brand was able to stay in the black with sales up 3% in the first quarter. That compares to Jeep, which was down 14%, and Dodge sliding 20%. Its Italian brands, Fiat and Alfa Romeo, experienced sales declines of 49% and 14%, respectively. 

Each of GM’s four brands were in the red, led by a 34.7% decline for Buick and 15.8% slide for Cadillac. Chevrolet and GMC were down 3.8% and 5.5%, respectively.

Shares of the Italian-American automaker were down about 3% in morning trading to about $7. The stock is down by about 52% so far this year. Shares of GM were down  more than 4.5% in morning trading to about $20. The stock is down 45.5% so far this year.

In an attempt to spur sales, Fiat Chrysler said it will ease the purchase process through its “Drive Forward” program, which provides consumers with incentives and a new “Online Retail Experience.”  The program, according to the company,  allows customers to complete the entire vehicle purchase process online.

Most major automakers are expected to report March or first-quarter sales on Wednesday, providing another look at how the coronavirus is crippling the auto industry. Automakers across the U.S. have ended vehicle production and other countries due to the virus. They’ve also cut or deferred executive and white-collar salaries and withdrawn guidances for the year.

Other automakers reporting March or first-quarter sales include:

  • Hyundai Motor’s sales in the first quarter fell about 11% to 130,875 units compared to a year ago, including a 42.6% slide in March due to COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Porsche reported its sales for the first quarter fell 20.2% to fewer than 12,000 vehicles.

Leave a Reply

Back to top