Fiat Chrysler and GM’s 3Q auto sales fall from last year, but demand improves

The Key Auto Mall car dealership in Moline, Illinois.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Fiat Chrysler and General Motor’s auto sales fell in the third quarter, but both automakers saw a significant rebound in demand from the second quarter when the pandemic wreaked havoc on the industry.

Fiat Chrysler’s sales fell 10% from a year ago, but they jumped 38% from the second to third quarter with 140,265 more vehicles sold from July through September than the previous three months. GM said its sales during the third quarter declined 9.9% from a year ago but improved sequentially each month, showing continued signs of a recovery. Both automakers beat most sales expectations of industry analysts.

Industry forecasters expect domestic U.S. auto sales to show vast improvements from the second quarter but remain down between 11% and 13% from the third quarter of 2019.

Sales during the second quarter slid more than 30% compared to a year as the coronavirus caused consumers to stay at home, and dealerships and factories to shutter. A major driver for U.S. auto sales recovering faster than anticipated are retail sales, or those to individual consumers. 

“While the economy has made a substantial rebound in the third quarter, retail auto sales have been even more resilient,” GM Chief Economist Elaine Buckberg said in a release. “Super low auto loan interest rates have boosted retail auto sales; yet more strength comes from pandemic-induced demand.”

GM said its retail sales, or those to consumers, were nearly flat from the third quarter of 2019. The company declined to provide specific details of those sales as well as its vehicle inventory levels, including critically low supplies of its Chevrolet and GMC pickups.

Led by gains of its Palisade SUV, Hyundai Motor only reported a decline of 1.3% for the third quarter compared with the same time period last year. That includes a 5.5% increase in September, according to the South Korean automaker.

“The market has definitely come back a lot quicker than we anticipated,” Randy Parker, vice president of sales for Hyundai Motor America, told CNBC during a phone interview. “The Palisade is a very hot-selling product. I can’t get enough at this point. Our dealers are asking for more.”

Fiat Chrysler, GM and Hyundai were among the first automakers to report third quarter sales. Most automakers are are expected to report their results on Thursday.

Others to report third quarter sales include:

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