Fiat Chrysler’s first-quarter sales fall 10.4% as coronavirus 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

Fiat Chrysler’s U.S. vehicle sales in the first quarter declined 10.4% as the coronavirus causes consumers to stay at home and dealerships to shutter.

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.

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, the automaker’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. 

Shares of the Italian-American automaker were down nearly 4% in premarket trading. The stock is down 51.1% so far this year and 51.6% over the past 12 months.  

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 They’ve also cut or deferred executive and white-collar salaries and withdrawn guidances for the year.

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.”  

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