Unit-Auto Sales Stage Partial Rebound Following A Two-Month Plunge

June 6, 2020

Sales of light vehicles totaled 12.2 million at an annual rate in May, partially rebounding from the 8.7 million pace in April (see top 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 April 2014 (see top chart).

For the month of May, light-truck sales totaled 9.6 million at an annual rate, a sharp increase from the 6.7 million rate in April. Car sales had a more modest gain, rising to a 2.7 annual rate versus 2.0 in April. On a percentage basis, light trucks posted a 43 percent gain while cars had a 35 percent rise.

The faster gain for light-trucks puts the light-truck share at 78.3 percent, a new record high, and completely dominating the car share of 21.7 percent. The rising share of light-trucks continues a long-term trend (see bottom chart). 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.

*AIER is a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit registered in the US under EIN:04-2121305