Chicago Automobile Trade Association

September sales expected to fall to lowest volume since Great Depression

October 1, 2021
U.S. light-vehicle sales volume in September was projected to fall to its lowest September level since 2009, according to a forecast by Cox Automotive.
 
Cox predicted that sales would drop to 1 million units in the just-concluded month, down 26% from a year ago. There have been only three months of below 1 million volume in the past decade, according to Cox.
 
Many U.S. automakers planned to report September and third-quarter light-vehicle sales on Oct. 1, as they continued to idle plants intermittently to redirect scarce semiconductor microchips. AutoForecast Solutions estimated the global auto industry has lost 8.9 million vehicles from production plans because of the chip crisis, including 2.9 million in North America.
 
Cox expected the September sales pace, or the seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR), to fall to about 12.1 million vehicles, the slowest pace since May 2020, when much of the country was shut down in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. That pace is down about 1 million vehicles from August and about 4 million units from the sales rate set in September 2020.
 
September would mark the fifth straight month of U.S. light-vehicle SAAR declines. In each of those months, the sales pace has declined by more than a million units. Stock on dealership lots has sunk 58% since 12 months ago, down by nearly 1.4 million units, Cox said.
 
"After a strong spring selling season, the supply situation has worsened precipitously and is dragging sales down with it," Charlie Chesbrough, Cox Automotive senior economist, said in a statement.
 
No vehicle segments bolstered sales in September, Cox said. The largest year-over-year decreases were in the midsize car segment at 41% and the compact crossover segment at 33.7%
 
With the September sales drop, Cox expected third-quarter volume to drop 14% from a year ago and 22% from the third quarter of 2019.
 
Consumer demand is strong, but inventory on dealers’ lots has remained sparse. The lack of choices may be pushing would-be buyers out of the market, according to an August survey by Cox’s Kelley Blue Book team.
 
Cox expects the chip supply constraints to improve, resulting in a better fourth-quarter selling rate. "But that doesn’t mean good selling rates," said Chesbrough. Still, some automakers have managed the shortage better in recent months, he added.
 
"Automakers are improving their ability to redirect existing chips to the most important vehicles in their portfolios," Chesbrough said. "This strategy should support better sales in the fourth quarter compared to the third quarter."
 
 

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