Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

For the first time since 1931, General Motors Co. not the best-selling car manufacturer in the US

The Detroit-based company lost its crown to Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp., which boosted sales by 10% last year despite a 28% decline in the fourth quarter. With 2.3 million units sold in the US in 2021, Toyota GM’s 2.2 million has neatly surpassed.

The Japanese carmaker has said selling out GM is unlikely to be sustainable. “That’s not our goal,” Jack Hollis, a senior vice president in charge of U.S. sales for Toyota, said in a conference call with reporters.

The change at the top reflects the volatility of a year that many carmakers will be happy to leave behind. From torn shipping companies to semiconductor shortages, the challenges of 2021 have left manufacturers struggling to keep up with demand. While industry-wide sales are likely to have risen modestly since 2020, supply constraints have shattered any hope of a speedy recovery from the early pandemic slump.

Carmakers are likely to sell a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 12.5 million new vehicles in December, 23% lower than a year earlier, according to the average forecast of six market researchers surveyed by Bloomberg.

Graphic showing projections for annual U.S. car sales based on a survey by Bloomberg analysts

The scale of the problems became clearer on Tuesday as most major carmakers reported U.S. sales for the fourth quarter and full year. Ford Motor Co. will be expected to release its figures on Wednesday.

For the full year, car sales were likely to hit 14.9 million vehicles, a jump of 2.5% from the coronavirus-infested days of 2020, according to Cox Automotive.

The year was not without its bright spots. The inventory challenges helped propel some buyers toward more profitable, option-laden models, while accelerating the mainstream embrace of electric vehicles. Indeed, Tesla Inc. on Sunday surpassed Wall Street’s expectations with record quarterly global deliveries.

Other car manufacturers will be hard pressed to fit that kind of performance. We will look at the results as the major manufacturers report through the course of the day.

GM loses ground

GM’s sales for the year fell 13%, weighing down 43% in the last quarter. Chevy Silverado sales fell more than 30% and GMC Sierra’s sales tumbled 21% during the quarter. The car giant was quick to blame slide restrictions for its misery, saying they put a 13% brake on sales.

This forced GM to be strategic about where it devoted supplies. In a sad quarter, sales of the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade were big sport utility vehicles all up. These are the most lucrative vehicles the company sells.

Of crucial importance to investors, GM said semiconductor inventories improved by year-end, and the company predicts further improvements in 2022.

Toyota takes over

Toyota’s strong performance in 2021 was supported by sales of sedans such as the Corolla and Camry. While the carmaker’s top-selling vehicle remained the RAV4, the compact SUV’s sales actually fell by 5% for the year. Sales of the Corolla and Camry increased by 5% and 6.6% respectively.

While final scores for the industry have yet to come, Toyota likely gained one point of market share in the fourth quarter, giving it 15.5% of sales and the top spot. This is the first time GM has not been number 1 since 1931, when he beat Ford.

Honda Crossover Leads deliveries

Like Toyota, Honda Motor Co. managed to boost sales for the year despite a sharp drop at the end. December’s score dropped by 23% to 105,068 vehicles, while sales increased by 8.9% to 1.47 million in 2021.

Honda’s nimble CR-V compact crossover deliveries rose 8.3%. The Civic compact and Accord mid-size sedans also performed well, continuing the dominance of Asian brands in the segment. Among Honda’s biggest acquisitions: its Ridgeline pickup and Passport mid-size SUV, both of which have been redesigned to display a more “robust” look.

Hyundai’s Cheap Chic

Hyundai Motor Co. ‘s namesake brand was one of the big winners last year, with a 19% increase in sales over a year earlier. The Korean carmaker did lose some steam in the declining months of 2021, with a 15% drop in deliveries in the fourth quarter to 152,446 vehicles. For the month of December alone, its sales fell by 23%.

U.S. retail sales were the company’s highest ever, driven by demand for the budget-friendly Venue sub-compact crossover model, starting at less than $ 20,000, as well as for the Kona sub-compact SUV and Tucson compact SUV.

Hyundai had similar inventory levels as Toyota and other Japanese competitors, but availability declined late in the year, said Randy Parker, senior vice president of sales at Hyundai Motor America. The company has adapted by pushing dealers to sell more cars they have not yet had.

“You’re getting better at online retail and getting better at pre-selling your pipeline,” Parker said in an interview. “That’s exactly what we did, and it helped drive our success in a very difficult year.”

– With the help of Gabrielle Coppola and Keith Naughton.

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