Having Already Dropped for Years, US Auto Sales Plunged to 1970s Level in 2020

GM, Toyota, Ford sales down 5th year in a row. Nissan in a death spiral. The Pandemic accelerated what had started in 2016. Long-term view on auto sales.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

During the infamous year 2020, with all its distortions and shifts, automakers delivered 14.65 million new vehicles in the US, retail and fleet combined, down 14.4% from 2019, the largest year-over-year percentage decline since 2008 (-18%). Topping off years of declines, 2020 took auto sales back to levels first seen in the 1970s.

Every recession has left a deep scar on auto sales. But over the past 20 years, it has taken many years to get back to the prior highs, only to then watch sales plunging again. The last high was in 2016, which had barely eked past the prior high of 2000, in this terribly cyclical business of long-term stagnation interrupted by deep plunges:

These are deliveries of new vehicles by dealers to their customers, retail and fleet, plus direct deliveries by automakers to their large fleet customers, such as rental car companies, and direct sales by automakers to their employees under employee programs.

None of the automakers reported it when they published their vehicle sales this week, but all seven giants in the US have now booked several years in a row of declines; for GM, Toyota, and Ford, 2020 was the fifth year in a row of declines.

In their press releases, they highlighted a cherry-picked record here or there. But long-term sales trends, no way. Investors have a short memory, or no memory – that’s what automakers are counting on. And the media doesn’t report long-term sales trends either, so I will. Because there are some doozies in the batch, and because the Pandemic didn’t start the trends but just accelerated them.

General Motors, the largest automaker in US sales, reported that its deliveries in the US in the year 2020 fell by 12% to 2.55 million units. It was the fifth year in a row of declines. The Pandemic just accelerated the process. Since 2015, its vehicle sales have dropped by 17.4%:

Toyota, which re-became the second largest automaker in the US last year, reported that its total sales in the US fell by 11.9% in 2020 to 2.11 million vehicles, thereby bypassing Ford, after having surrendered the second position to Ford in 2019. The two have been nip and tuck for years. For Toyota, it was also the fifth year in a row of declines. Since 2015, Toyota’s sales have dropped 15.5%:

Ford, the third largest automaker, reported that total sales in 2020 fell 15.6% from 2019 to 2.04 million vehicles, also the fifth year in a row of declines. Since 2015, its sales have dropped 21.4%:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the fourth largest automaker, reported that its US sales fell 17.4% in 2020 to 1.82 million vehicles. Since 2015, its sales have dropped 19.6%. But it’s the only automaker among the seven giants here whose sales in 2020 were higher than in 2013, if only by a hair, and if only because 2013 was still so crummy for FCA:

American Honda, the fifth largest automaker in the US, reported that its sales in 2020 dropped 16.3% to 1.35 million vehicles, the third year in a row of declines. Since 2017, its sales are down 18.0%:

Hyundai and Kia – they report separately though they’re joined through their ownership structure – sold 1.21 million vehicles combined in 2020, down 7.4% from 2019. This makes the company the sixth largest automaker in the US, with Nissan’s sales having collapsed over the past three years, and fallen through the floor. Hyundai-Kia sales are down 15.1% since 2016:

Nissan, which dropped to seventh place this year, reported that its sales are in a death spiral – well, it didn’t phrase it that way, but that’s what the numbers said.

Its sales in 2020 collapsed by 33.2% to just 0.899 million (from 1.35 million in 2019). It was the third year in a row of declines, with the Pandemic merely accelerating already astounding declines in 2018 and 2019. Since 2017, sales have collapsed by 43.6%. With a multi-year sales collapse like this, a company is starting to contemplate existential issues:

Given the state of this industry in the US and other developed countries – decades of stagnation interrupted by deep plunges in vehicle sales – automakers have two choices to increase their revenues in dollars: Raise prices or sell upscale vehicles. And they’re doing both. According to J.D. Power, the “average transaction price,” a standard industry metric to track precisely these moves, jumped by 9% year-over-year in December to a record of $38,077.

They’re raising prices and they’re all going upscale as their salvation. And thereby they’re excluding a big part of the population from buying a new vehicle, which is in part responsible for, you guessed it, decades of stagnation interrupted by deep plunges.

The remaining automakers in the US are much smaller. All German automakers combined are outsold by Hyundai-Kia. Tesla only reports global sales including China and Europe, not US sales, but its US sales are minuscule compared to the giants.

Tesla’s global market shares in 2020 was 0.7%. But its market capitalization is higher than the combined total of Toyota, Volkswagen, Daimler, GM, BMW, Honda, Ford, and Fiat-Chrysler as the zoo has gone nuts. Read… Tesla Finally Almost Hit 500,000 Deliveries, Two Years Behind its Promise, for a Global Market Share of… 0.7%

Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? You can donate. I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer and iced-tea mug to find out how:

Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.

  220 comments for “Having Already Dropped for Years, US Auto Sales Plunged to 1970s Level in 2020

  1. RightNYer says:

    I feel like we’re living in the twilight zone, where we don’t know whether the things right in front of our faces are real or hallucinations.

    • Rowen says:


    • JC says:

      it’s the ‘a big lie’ syndrome?

    • Wisdom Seeker says:

      You mean now we’re discovering that we’ve been in the twilight zone all along?

      Every time I learn something else is just an illusion, I look at the history and realize it’s always been that way.

      • RightNYer says:

        Perhaps, but something about the past year seems more illusory than anything in the past.

        • Frederick says:

          If 2001 wasn’t illusionary enough for you than I don’t know what is That’s what woke me up for sure

      • WES says:

        Roman history is quite relevant!

        Sales of one and two axle ox carts fell while upscale chariot sales increased!

        • Noelck says:

          Thanks for the laugh WES!

        • Jack says:

          Love it!

          Wonderful comment, and very pertinent to our “hallucinating “

        • Aaron says:

          Hilarious! I wonder if you you hit the nail on the head when it comes to sales of Porsche’s, Bentleys, Mercedes & perhaps Corvettes. The sales stats on models within these brands would be interesting to observe as well.

        • Mark Green says:

          Funny! Thank you!

    • “Popular Delusions..” just look around you, America led by the worlds most powerful and delusional man.

    • raxadian says:

      Rat: What are you reading, Goat?

      Goat: ‘Fahrenheit 451’. It’s this science fiction novel about a hedonistic anti-intellectual society where nobody can own books, so nobody reads. Instead, everyone just sits around watching interactive wall-size TV’s.

      Rat: You just described my living room.

      Goat: (does a Facepalm) Well, it used to be science fiction.

      Rat: Hey, their TV’s aren’t bigger than mine, are they?

      — Pearls Before Swine

    • Mr. House says:

      We live in Schrödinger’s economy!


  2. Tom S. says:

    The automotive industry in the US needs more buyers, maybe relaxing immigration policy will help stimulate that growth. Although, immigrants will also need jobs, so it’s critical the service sector rebounds. Perhaps infrastructure investment is in the cards as well. There’s a lot of hard work between buying a used Nissan Sentra to a new F-150 or fancy EV, but…living the dream and all. It’s pretty important for just about everyone to keep automotive sales from dipping too low for too long.

    From Detroit News…

    “The vehicle market in 2020 perfectly illustrates the K-shaped recovery we’re watching,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Cox’s Autotrader. “The top leg of the K represents the upwardly mobile people who kept jobs, were invested in the surging stock market, saved money because they had no place to spend it. This group stayed in the market, and they bought expensive vehicles, SUVs and pickup trucks. The bottom leg of the K is an entirely different story,” she added. “It represents the financially vulnerable who lost income or jobs altogether, struggled with credit issues and were frozen out of the new-vehicle market, which is why lower-priced vehicles, including cars, suffered. This fractured marketplace was emerging even before the pandemic, but it was accelerated in 2020.”

    • RightNYer says:

      And therein lies the problem. You can’t have a stable society where all of the wealth is concentrated at the top and the bottom are hungry, sick, and have no reasonable access to housing or any other assets.

      If we continue along this trajectory, we’re going to have a civil war.

      • Jon says:

        If I am in the bottom rung of the society I’d not keep quiet and sit idle on my a**
        But if I am getting big fat stimulus then its a different story.
        that’s why govt is inclined to keep bottom rung giving $$ so that govt can help rich people become richer

        • RightNYer says:

          The thing is, the stimulus won’t be enough. It never is.

        • Anthony A. says:

          The problem is that lower paid folks can’t afford new cars. Now we know that dealers will finance *anyone* and that just sometimes leads to repossession of the vehicle. But it shows as a new car sale.

          I have a stepson with crappy credit (I mean really bad) and VW got him into a new $17K Jetta. But he is financed at 15%. Lovely!

        • RightNYer says:

          Anthony, not just newer cars, but ANYTHING. The stimulus might be enough to buy a few toys like iPhones or LED TVs, but certainly not enough to buy a house, a car, or build wealth in any meaningful way.

        • Cas127 says:

          “The thing is, the stimulus won’t be enough. It never is.”


          After all, a 100%+ Fed Debt to GDP ratio has gotten us to this lovely moment of American debilitation and decay…so “obviously” the solution is more DC deficit financing (for essentially the 50th year in a row).

          I mean why mess with a record of “success” like that.

          DC fans remind me of the little boy who came upon a huge pile of horsesh*t standing alone in a field.

          Feverishly, the little boy dug through the pile with his bare hands, covering himself in excrement.

          Flabbergasted and appalled, his mother walked by and in anguish she cried, “What are you doing! You must be insane!!”

          To which the bespattered boy replied,

          “Well, there must a pony in here somewhere!!”.

          So, keep digging DC fan base.

          (Hat tip: RR, with a twist)

        • Frederick says:

          That socalled “Stimulus” will be paid back with interest Count on that

      • Jon says:

        I guess more stimulus and UBI is coming for sure .

        • Nacho Libre says:

          Free Netflix to keep the serfs distracted.

          MMT, UBI, stimulus, hyperinflation, you name it and you can have it.

          Book burnings will begin with economic text books

        • TimTim says:

          Why do you think states are legalising cannabis….

          Stoners don’t go out and fight….

        • Cas127 says:


          100% right.

          Is it really coincidental that the G, after billions in futilely chasing down drugs, chooses this era of economic decline to give up on MJ?

          The G has failed to provide a materially better life for the population…but they can keep you too stoned to notice/care/act.

        • The Count says:

          I read over at MSN that Oregon has registered $1bn worth of pot sales in 2020.

          Thats a lot of weed. No wonder theres a pot shop on every corner in Portland.

        • NBay says:


          There is NO Nobel Prize for Economics, none, nada, zilch, as it’s just another social science. Nobel family hates it, as do many trained economists. (that aren’t from the Chicago school)

          Apologies for Uncle Milty’s “Nobel Prize”, aka “trickle down” in layman speech.

      • Old School says:

        I don’t know if the BIS is a straight shooter or not, but they warned central banks that meeting inflation target and financial stability are mutually exclusive. This is has been my thought as well. Look at Japan, Europe and USA all blowing extreme debt bubble to try to get to 2% inflation as they define.

        As Stockman demonstrates the USA is at 2% inflation for the last 20 years within the margin of error of measuring it, but we are still at zero fed rate.

        • Frederick says:

          BIS a straight shooter? That’s the funniest thing I’ve read in a very long time Would you buy a used car from that man, Uhh woman?

      • Stephen C. says:

        Just tell the little people that driving cars is bad (being sure to explain ecology in the simplest terms) and that they need to take the electric bus to work. Don’t mind all the fancy cars you see, those are all the special people who take care of important stuff like investing and stuff.

    • WES says:

      Tom S:

      The bottom half are being helped by raising used car prices! /s

      • Tom S. says:

        You hear the fed talk about it, specifically the Cleveland fed president, something along the lines of “if some inflation happens it might not actually be inflation. What we’re waiting for is real sustained inflation, not just a blip”

    • Thomas Roberts says:

      Over time, GM and Ford keep pushing bigger cars onto the road, because, they have higher profit margins. Last year (2020) GM stopped production of the Chevy Impala and there is rumors that GM and Ford might shutter all sedan production in near future. Besides the income problems for buying the new more expensive cars for the average family, I’m sure many are wondering if it’s still smart to buy sedans if there is going to be a bunch of people who now think they can boss you around on the road, because, they have bigger cars than you or just go to foreign cars. GM and Ford are basically abandoning most foreign markets as well. Considering the fracking boom may soon come to an end in America and the global economy is probably headed for severe recession/depression, it’s all very reminiscent of the 70s, when foreign competition had to be banned for GM and Ford to stand a chance. There is also the law that says pickup trucks must be made in America. The 2008 bailouts also come to mind. The overall situation for GM and Ford seems much worse than in the past (when it all comes crashing down) and considering many foreign car manufacturers have set up shop in America, I’m not sure those bailouts will be enough to keep them from shrinking dramatically next time.

      It’s worth remembering that GM and Ford are not really American companies anymore either, once you factor in how they continuously outsource more and more of both production and design (they also don’t pay taxes and instead receive tax money). GM now imports entire cars. Chrysler ownership keeps getting passed around.

      Most substantially though, are the self driving cars coming. Many people will drop out of the personal car market altogether, especially, if they continue on the current path of becoming Hikikomori.

      I will be rooting for Tesla and new American car manufactures, I say good riddance to GM and Ford though (they may soon face their demise).

      • eg says:

        I think we are all going to grow old, very old, waiting for self driving cars. The regulatory and insurance issues are non-trivial.

        • Anthony A. says:

          Besides the regulatory and insurance roadblocks, the bigger one is achieving technical Level 5 in autonomy, which even the EV/self driving experts feel it’s not possible with current technology.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Anyone can call themselves an expert, they often a Financial interest when they speak publicly about things. If you are paid by one company who works on self driving cars and another company is ahead of you. You might say well its a ways out for everyone.

          There are no hardware problems left with self driving cars, the only thing that remains is the technical challenge of the software part, which is making huge and rapid progress. It’s not the same thing as say fusion energy, all that remains is the programming, which is guaranteed possible.

          The laws and regulations follow the money and will not impede self driving cars. While self driving cars can and will get in accidents they merely have to be less accident prone than people and they still will continuously improve over time. They will never be drunnk, on their phones, sleepy, or have road rage.

        • NBay says:

          Speaking as an electronic tech (and for EE’s, too). We’ll play with all that neat self crashing stuff as long as someone pays us for it. It’s fun. Nobody’s fool enough to tell the guy who cuts his check it will never work, usually.
          Look at what some of them do for entertainment…and maybe some cash.

        • nick kelly says:

          ‘There are no hardware problems left with self driving cars, the only thing that remains is the technical challenge of the software part’

          That’s like saying there are no physical barriers to this teen flying a 767, except that he doesn’t know how to fly. The essence of the self- driving problem is duplicating the functions of the human brain, which directs the actions.

        • NBay says:

          I should have also added “nuclear fusion” machines. (A little Sun in a box…har har)
          I have good inside info on that stupid money sink mentioned elsewhere.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          nick kelly,

          A self driving car doesn’t have to think the same way as a person, it’s actually much easier than that. Also, people have to constantly while driving, figure out how various people and types of vehicles will react to everything else, a self driving car will drive well and react in a much more consistent way that will be easy to predict. As more and more self driving cars are on the road, they will be able to communicate with each other and drive better, while also making an ever greater percentage of vehicles on the road to be easily predictable for the human drivers.

          Teens can and do fly planes. The large planes are not necessarily harder to fly than small planes. In America, you can get a pilots license before you are 18 and there are many 17 year olds in America that would fly a large Boeing just as good as a typical commercial pilot.

        • Diane Ceiler says:

          I live in an area with roads that are not always cleaned or plowed or maintained properly. Last winter, for example, I was driving on a sorta-major highway and I could not see my own headlights since the salt and sand slush was coating everything… I had to pull off on a side road to wipe off the headlights, tail lights, and the side windows. How do self-driving cars navigate those conditions? All of the sensors would be buried by layers of grime, and the car would be essentially blind. Without seeing the lane markings and the paint stripe on the side of the road, how does the car judge the edge of the pavement? Self-driving cars may be cool on southern California highways with perfect conditions, but up here in the snowy north country, not so much. And I do not care how great the software is, any car up here would be blind after five or ten minutes on the road. I will keep my old car, thanks!

      • roddy6667 says:

        “GM and Ford have basically abandoned foreign markets”. Not true. For example, GM makes and sells more cars in China than in America. It also makes more profits in China than America, and that money ends up in American banks. Without those dollars, GM might be a candidate for bankruptcy. Again. Ford is also big there.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          In China, if a foreign car manufacturer wants to sell cars there they have to setup a partnership with a state controlled company. In those partnerships involving cars, the Chinese side basically gets a copy of the technology and is guided through the production of modern cars. The foreign side allegedly gets money from it. However, it’s very unclear how much money the foreign companies actually gets as the foreign side seems to be pressured into reinvesting it into their Chinese operations; with the promise of ever greater future money. Car manufacturers count these dual produced cars in different ways in their global sales numbers.

          As China can try to block anything or anyone from taking their money out of the country and companies like GM will always try to inflate their profits, it’s unclear how much they actually make from it. More substantially though, is that in the same way that foreign electronic companies have been pushed out of the Chinese market; the car manufacturers could be as well. While, the Chinese side of these plants still depend on foreign parts, the CCP has made references to becoming entirely self dependant, this would presumably cut out the foreign manufacturers completely and involve nationaliziing all the foreign owned assets in China.

        • roddy6667 says:

          If the profits from operating in China were small or none, why do so many companies do it? To say that GM is lying about the profits from the China operations is not supported by facts. Yes, the Chinese partner company gets the intellectual rights and within 2 or 3 years, any new ideas are in their cars. This is the price of admission to the world’s largest and most profitable automobile market. Any manufacturer who has frequent new improvements to their cars will not have any problem with this.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          It’s all about the dream of that China money. However, few types of companies are still making significant money in China. Often, many companies make some money from China, but, at the expense of other markets (Hollywood).

          The problem is that the CCP promises alot, but, delivers less and less. China’s economy is even more debt dependant then America’s and the Chinese economy has been stagnanting for 5+ years. The CCP makes up all its numbers so it’s hard to say exactly how much the Chinese auto market actually makes, but, i see it plateauing very soon. The CCP wants an ever greater share of money of a shrinking pie and foreign companies who helped build China up, take the hit. The question is how long can this last?

      • roddy6667 says:

        I don’t know if it is still true, but the most American pickup truck used to be the Toyota Tundra, with the largest percentage of American made parts. General Motors might as well change its name to Motores Generales.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Not sure about the Tundra, but, The Toyota Camry is the most American sedan.

        • Heff says:

          I’ve never heard that. But will say, if you ever look at the ratings of pickup trucks, the Tundra is always at the bottom of the heap. The mileage sucks and it never had all the bells and whistles as the others had. It’s almost as if Toyota treats the Tundra as an afterthought.

      • Stephen C says:

        @Thomas Roberts: Thanks for the new word of the day, Hikikomori. Very interesting.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Your welcome, the biggest concern i have with the lockdowns is that a quickly growing percentage of the American public would become Hikikomori.

      • nick kelly says:

        ‘GM now imports entire cars.’

        GM has been importing cars for 20 years, e.g., Chev Aveo aka Sonic

    • Bruce says:

      Is this a troll?
      ‘$Ford is down! Open the boarders so more people can buy our cars. Damn the job market and cost of housing!!!!’
      Cars can be driven to other countries to be sold.

    • Cmoore says:

      I hope Nissan doesn’t go out of business. I have a Nissan Titan that I love..

  3. T.J., not the real tj says:

    The average family makes $50k, the average car costs $38K. Crazy times. At least they’re good for 125k + miles these days.

    • Depth Charge says:

      Realistically, they should last 250k with good maintenance.

      • schutzhund says:

        2004 Honda Odyssey with 249,000 miles, runs like a top. full of dings and bings from the various parking lots…but who cares!

        • DR DOOM says:

          I will see your 249k on the Odyssey and raise you another 51k on my 2002 4×4 Silverado. My wife has a 2010 Odyssey with 170k and we love both.

        • Zantetsu says:

          I only have 50,000 on my 2016 Subaru. I’m not confident that the car will make it to 250K, especially with how hard I drive it. Something about the engine just feels/sounds a bit fragile to me.

          The good news is that with Covid, I’m driving like 3,000 miles per year tops, so 100K is 16 years away …

        • MCH says:


          So, if we had to rationalize it for the sake of your Subaru getting to 100K miles.

          Then it means we only need Coivd to last for another 16 years right? With a stimulus check of $2K every six months to the “deserving.”

          By then, we can really call it a pandemic….


        • Zantetsu says:

          Yeah, I don’t expect to drive like it’s full-on Covid time forever. But I would not be surprised if my driving never returns to the quantity I did previously, when I was driving to work 5 days a week.

          Maybe I’ll do 6,000 miles per year after Covid calms down, due to significant residual work at home? So call it 8 years to 100K miles.

          I could refine this even further, but there’s little point. 3,000 per year was an approximation and guess, so is 6,000 or any other number I come up with.

          My point being, as others have noted, cars will likely last longer than previously just because there is less driving in the post pandemic world.

      • Thomas Roberts says:

        Depth Charge,

        It does depend on where you live in America and it’s also dependant on how many miles per year you drive. In the Midwest and other colder areas, the salt on the road from winter accelerates rusting enough that cars become unworth repairing somewhere around the 15 year mark. Can be earlier or later depending on the car, but, past year 10 some parts might need rust repair already. Past 15 yearsish you will have an ugly rust bucket, possibly still runs, but, unworth sticking any money into. The new electric cars have carbon fiber parts and far less engine components so they could last far longer.

        If cars actually make it to 15ish years that wouldn’t be bad, but, I’m very suspicious of GM and Ford increasingly over time, intentionally making their cars unreliable and difficult and expensive to repair.

    • jm says:

      No. The median family makes about $50k. The average family makes much, much more. IIRC at least twice that.

    • roddy6667 says:

      Will they still be making payments at 125,000 miles?

  4. Paulo says:

    Holy Moley. Nissan makes a good car and truck, what’s with that?

    A couple of years ago I attempted to buy new through my son’s employer that receives a big discount from Ford and Chrysler. Looked at the new Jeep PU, a new Ranger, and a new Dodge 1500. My son was even sleeping with the sales woman!!!! Despite the incentive it simply was not worth it. Settled on an inside family purchase, an 18 year old GMC PU in new condition with 100K miles and well maintained. Paid cash.

    The past 18 months spent about $400 in maint, which included the major expense of recharging the air conditioner. Otherwise, maybe $150 total.

    I suspect other people are doing the same kind of thing. And yes, I had the cash for a new vehicle but couldn’t bring myself to waste the money on a rolling flatscreen of dubious quality. It just isn’t worth it for transportation and utility.

    Lots of good used stuff out there. Maintenance is cheaper than buying new or financing.

    • Depth Charge says:

      Yep. For the past 2 years I had been actively looking for a good deal on a new diesel pickup truck. I wanted to pay cash. I just couldn’t. There were no good deals and cash means zilch anymore. They’re looking to peddle financial products as if the vehicle isn’t expensive enough. So, I decided to keep using my now 23 year old truck, which shows no signs of slowing down (170k miles).

      • otishertz says:

        Used prices are way way better. For the love of God, save yourself, buy a used truck. You can pay a local mechanic 100 bucks to check it over. Save $20k you silly goat.

        • Depth Charge says:

          Used prices are horrible right now. In fact a 2 year old truck is more expensive than factory new. I am not buying anything at the moment. I will wait for a meltdown like 2008 when you couldn’t even give a truck away. I don’t even drive enough anymore to justify it.

        • otishertz says:

          Are you serious? A two year old truck is cheaper than a new one? OK if you say so.

        • otishertz says:

          I mean, more expensive, as you said.

        • muneshwar budhu says:

          Yep, used car prices are high, I return a lease car, they made no attempt to sell it to me. They know they can get more outside of the lease.

        • NoEasyDay says:

          @muneshwar budhu-

          >They know they can get more outside of the lease.

          So true.

          Residual values are inflated with easy credit.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Look in farm country, whatever state you live in dc, or go to another state with lots of rural and farm land.
        Trouble is that most of the diesel trucks are much better made because it is anticipated they will have to work for their rice bowl instead of just being a glorified family vehicle, etc.
        Also, there are usually lots of very good used and also new diesel trucks in the many ”tractor” trader type of magazines…
        Otherwise, commercial auctions are also good.

      • otishertz says:

        This may come across as dumb and obvious but if you want a good deal on a used vehicle either learn how to fix a car or take your mechanic with you to evaluate a car you want to buy, like you may have done with your house appraiser.

    • BrianC - PDX says:

      Yeah i am in the same boat. I have a ’98 Chevy K2500. I have looked at cars for awhile. I figure I have one more purchase in me before I’m done. I just can’t justify the prices. I want basic transportation. I’m fine with most of the new safety stuff, but no way am I going to get ~20 years out of the electronic crap in todays vehicles.

      Other than gas my expenses last year were:
      – Fix a fast idle code, diagnosed by my mechanic. Cruise control mechanism sticking. Plus lube oil change with Mobil-1 synthetic. $220.
      – Pulled new 60/40 bench seats out of a junker and used while reupholstering the originals. $67.
      – Replaced the spare tire winch. Cable frayed on the original. Common problem with the ’90’s GMC OBS trucks. $20.
      – Gas for 4k miles at ~16/mpg… *cough*
      – Insurance $1400 for a year[1]

      [1] I am carrying as much as State Farm allows without going to the head office for an override.

      I’d actually buy a car if I could get something reasonable. New/used auto prices are just crazy. (But I’m a cheapo.)

    • Anthony A. says:

      ^^^^^ Exactly!

    • eg says:

      We have a 2010 and a 2011 (both FCA) in our driveway, both purchased used 8 and 7 years ago respectively. No plans for replacement barring prohibitive repair costs, and we are well above the median family income in our household.

      • R Hughes says:

        Vehicles all SUVs, 01 170k, 07 122k, 10 89k, all run excellent, why do anything, even with the dollar resources. Actually wife looking for Lexus 430sc for fun, a 03 to 07, built to go 40 years.

    • Stephen C. says:

      “transportation and utility.” What’s that you speak of? We’re talking about the old-on-the vine American male psyche and the self image of a nation of expert know-it-alls, two carefully crafted entities designed to perfection. No body said anything about transportation and utility.

    • Cas127 says:

      “Lots of good used stuff out there.”

      Agreed, but…

      The one big shortfall in the used mkt is the lemon/adverse selection problem (people are more likely to sell cars with problems).

      Independent auto tech review helps but it isn’t a guarantee.

      Repair “insurance” is costly and frequently riddled with exclusions.

      It would be nice if some internet based risk spreading solution

      • nick kelly says:

        Car repair insurance is legal fraud in plain sight.
        The theory of rational insurance like house fire insurance is that very few houses burn down and but most home owners can’t afford the loss. If they have a mortgage then they need ins. BTW, having been there, if you claim your ins goes up a lot.

        It is mathematically impossible for the vast majority of car owners to come out ahead after the ins co takes its profit.

        On its face, the ad for car repair ins looks like an invitation to rob the ins co. The owner knows very well which issues are coming up. ‘Gee trans is acting up, better get ins’
        And no medical! (I could be wrong but I think there is no inspection needed by car ins co flooding TV with ads, itself a major red flag. Your life ins asks if YOU smoke, why wouldn’t car ins?)

        But the way all ins works: ‘you pay us and then we decide if we’ll pay you.’ That’s why the ins outfit can make what looks like an insane offer to cover cars up to 20 years old.

        Better to put the monthly payments in the bank and send for some of Popoff’s Miracle Water.

        • Paulo says:

          Yah Nick, Butttttt it’s Ice-T selling the plans on TV, and you know how much he likes his cars. Hilarious.

          Anyway, just repaired my 81 VW Westfalia starter problem. I carry a spare starter relay for a just in case. Winter salt corrosion. 10 minutes to get the jack over to the Westie shed, and a 5 minute repair process. Probably saved $100.

          Works great. Now, if there were only no travel restrictions….

    • nick kelly says:

      I am a fan of some older Nissan cars like standard Versa which is a tough unit. But Nissan is in trouble with their CVT auto trans. I researched it when lady was car shopping, asking if it was reliable. Got one answer from (he said) Nissan mechanic saying no and giving details. There are municipalities with CVT fleets suing Nissan.

    • Engin-ear says:

      – “Lots of good used stuff out there. Maintenance is cheaper than buying new or financing.”

      Yes. But only thanks to the sufficient number of companies and people that paid the full new vehicle price at some point in the past.

      That’s an interconnected ecosystem.

      Just wait until the ICE vehicles are banned somewhere in 10-15 years.

      I bet a good old diesel truck will cost more than the latest Tesla… unless the gas stations are banned with ICE…

  5. Depth Charge says:

    The prices are delusional despite waning demand, and dealers have a “take it or leave it” attitude along with low inventory. Worst time to buy a vehicle in history, right now.

  6. Jon says:

    Fancy new cars don’t excite me at all but I prefer new cars usually because of safety features. I am a safe driver but don’t trust other people on the road.

    • lenert says:

      Check out the Retrovette.

    • RightNYer says:

      Yep. The only features I paid extra for on my car is the bird’s eye camera and the blind spot detectors. Other than that, I don’t care about any of it.

      • Javert Chip says:

        Which explains precisely why there are required minimums of safety equipment, such as disc brakes, seat belts, air bags, etc

        • RightNYer says:

          I don’t quite follow

        • Anthony A. says:

          Disc brakes are not “mandated”. They are better (better stopping power, more efficient) than drum brakes and that’s why manufacturers put them on cars 40 + years ago. Plus, they are easier to service than old drum brakes.

          Anti-lock braking systems were mandated around 2013.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          This for rnyr:
          It seems that a lot of folks, especially us older ones who have been driving for 60 + years with no accidents, do NOT want or feel the need for any of the nanny type of safety requirements; and thus, as jc says, our nanny type of guv mint folks, elected or not, ”mandate” these things to save us from ourselves.
          While some of us remember that the early German (and perhaps others) sports car drivers did not want seat belts because when a wreck appeared imminent, they wanted to be able to jump out.
          Clearly, those days are long gone, and I was very pleased to see the driver walk away relatively unscathed from a horrible wreck recently that literally tore his F1 or Indycar in half.
          So, unless you can remove or at least turn off some of these newer devices, you are stuck with them.
          Having almost run over my 3 year old child backing up a pick up truck forty some years ago, I really like the back up camera on the new truck purchased recently to replace an ’84 pickup after 25 years and 300K miles… I do NOT like that I cannot open the door while backing a trailer, etc., but that’s about it for negatives for the ’19, and it will likely be the last vehicle I own, as I plan to give up driving soon, before that ”elderly accident” occurs, though I do have a good friend still driving safely at 93, so who knows, eh?

        • Zantetsu says:

          Funny comment Vintage. You nearly ran over a 3 year old 40 years ago so you can see the value of backup cameras. But you can’t see the value of other safety equipment. I guess none of it makes sense until you personally have a close call?

      • NBay says:

        I don’t want any excess electronic crapp and would buy a minimalist car or small PU with a 5 point harness and sturdy “passenger pod” in a second. And expect a discount, too. I think a lot of others would, also.

        Race cars don’t use all that junk, and I like to be concentrating on driving when doing so, like they do….only a lot less, since I’m not trying to win on the road, just get from here to there.

  7. Martha Careful says:

    My gut reaction is that auto sales (like everything else) are related to disposable income and decades of stagnate wages and thus, the inability of the average Joe/Joanna to invest in a new car. I assume this trend will intensify going forward with the new virus and far slower growth.

    The lack of wages, income, savings and investment will hold back future growth.


    Real Disposable Personal Income: Per Capita, Chained 2012 Dollars, Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (A229RX0)

    • otishertz says:

      If 7 year car loans at 7% can’t keep a car loan portfolio of collateralized loans going at .04 cost of capital I just don’t know what to tell ya, son.

      There’s big chickns and little chickns I say, I say.

  8. LibDis says:

    Been driving my Camry Wagon since May 1996 when I drove it off the lot brand new.

    Looking at today’s car prices, and the declining long term reliability I will continue to drive it. I may even drop a new tranny or engine in it, if it ever needs it.

    Does it need to be maintained? Sure, its 25 years old. But there are 3 systems on this vehicle that have NEVER been touched in 25 years outside of fluid changes, the engine, tranny and AC.

    See if you get that sort of reliability and longevity from your new 50k pos.

    • meadows says:

      Perhaps an entirely new paradigm of affordable but repairable might work? Maybe there is more money to be made in parts and repairs than in new sales. I really enjoy repairing 60’s 70’s small outboard motor, for instance. Parts still pretty easy to find, simple designs reasonable to repair, less than half of new and in many cases better machined than new….
      Case in point: Honda Outboards started outsourcing their smaller more affordable engines to China since 2015…. there have been quality issues.

      Don’t know if this extrapolates to autos….

      • otishertz says:

        So easy to work on an old v8. So inexpensive as well. I drive an awesome classic car retrofitted with all the latest electronics. It costs me almost nothing in maintenance and insurance (through Haggerty.)

    • Depth Charge says:

      Having considered a new diesel pickup truck over the past few years, I was reading the forums for each particular model. The problems are extensive and expensive. Nothing like driving a $75k truck off the lot then having a complete engine failure due to bad fuel, and having the manufacturer decline the $30,000 warranty repair (!). Or, having a squirrel chew up the wiring to the tune of $4,000. It’s all too rich for my blood.

      • otishertz says:

        No offense but if you want a diesel truck to do real work you can spend a fraction of new diesel truck price.

        • Depth Charge says:

          This is one of those cases of an anonymous poster making silly ASSumptions about things he doesn’t know. I already have a 1 ton dually diesel, I was just looking for a new one since mine is a dinosaur. I have a 16,500 lb trailer, a 14k trailer and a 7k trailer that I haul regularly.

        • otishertz says:

          If you can’t save money buying used on your own just hire a mechanic to evaluate the old diesel trucks for you.

          Old engines and transmissions do not have an expiration date. They are either worn out or not. With old cars you can diagnose a lot with your ears… .

      • tom15 says:

        Stick to the used market for Diesels. May take awhile, but you will not spend 75K.

        I haul in hill country. So I will stay with diesel.
        Mine haul machinery 5/6days a week.

        If it were hobby or occasional hauling, I would have a gas engine.

        • Depth Charge says:

          If I didn’t have heavy trailers, I wouldn’t own another diesel. I don’t like the emissions systems.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Depth Charge,

          I’ve heard the new hybrid (gasoline electric) trucks are excellent for towing due to the torque provided by the electric motor. And they’re a lot more economical than other power trains. You might want to check them out. Let me know what you think. I’d love to know.

          We drive a hybrid car. Quite amazing. That technology has really matured. But a car is a very different application than a truck that is used for towing. So I’d be interested in hearing what you find out.

      • WES says:


        Squirrels like the new bio plastics!

  9. George says:

    Why did you omit Subaru who has gained market share over the past three years?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      I omitted ALL small automakers, including VW, BMW, Daimler, all small Japanese automakers, the niche automakers, all of them. This is about the 7 giants in the US. The 7 giants sold 12 million vehicles combined in 2020, 83% of the total market. All remaining automakers combined sold 17%.

    • nick kelly says:

      Measure by units is perfectly legit stat but some ranks might change if ranked by $. Subaru does not have a budget entry like Hyundai / Kia Accent. Similar Benz. I guess the cheapest Benz (Daimler) not counting that dumb Smart thing, is triple $ the Accent. No German car even the Peoples Car has a $ competitor for H/Kia. (My rich nephew paid 40 K for a VW Jetta GTI. His first car at 35 ! How does a car with 16 K base end up at 40?)

      Some stats change when U go to $.

      ‘Oddly enough, BMW was the leading U.S. auto exporter in 2018, albeit by value. Its South Carolina manufacturing plant has one of the highest output volumes of BMW plants worldwide.’

      The biggest mistake ever made by US negotiators re: Japanese imports may have been when around 1985 (?) they agreed to quotas by units, not $.

      The message to Japan was clear: you gotta get more per unit. You must leave the econo-box.

  10. Seneca's cliff says:

    People working from home and not going to restaurants, bars, museums, the movies, health clubs or parties don’t drive many miles and so don’t need a new car often . I remember the 70’s, most of the people we knew lived close by, we went out to eat a couple of times a year, and people lived near where they worked. Maybe it makes sense that car sales are about the same, and maybe thats not a bad thing.

  11. Stan Sexton says:

    Nissan died because of their Jatco CVT transmission. Junk.

    • Kerry Lenon says:


    • Depth Charge says:

      They’ve built a lot of junk. Their Pathfinders and Titans had such cheaply made differential assemblies that the rear axle would literally start falling out of the vehicle while driving.

    • Stan, you have something there! Was at a very reputable auto garage today, and asked about the Continuously Variable Trannies in Subaru, Honda, and Nissan. Got the big thumbs down on Nissan. Do not introduce new technology that your design and manufacturing teams have not mastered. Too many highly visited venues for consumers to vent on.

      • R Hughes says:

        So true. Neighbors son late model Altima, 60k, cvt goes kaput, 4500 to replace, son does not have the $$, so dad has to rescue. He had advise son no Nissan, but son didn’t listen and got “special financing”, from Nissan. I think it was special bend over back door deal they gave him. Oh well. Dad told him last time for a bail out, better learn the lesson.

  12. MonkeyBusiness says:

    Best industry in the whole world as shown by Musk.

    Q: How do you become the richest man in the world?
    A: By selling a minuscule number of cars.

    • Depth Charge says:

      That’s nothing but a Jerome Powell Special. The bubbles this idiot has blown are off the charts.

    • MCH says:

      According to Chamath, you shouldn’t bet against Elon. So, time to be smart and bid up Tesla stock.


      Are you going to continue with your WTF chat for Tesla this year as a quintuple when it hit $1k again, or is it just a brand new WTF and seeing if he can get to a quintuple starting fresh?

      Asking for a friend… (Marketwatch)

      • Wolf Richter says:

        An Octuple WTF Chart?

        • MCH says:

          Well, let’s see Chamath thinks Tesla will get to $2k/share or something like that, I don’t remember the exact number he spouted off.

          So, let’s say if you use last year’s chart and just add on.

          Quintuple at $1K;

          How about this
          Sextuple at $1.25K
          Septuple at 1.6K
          Octuple at $2K

          You can pretty much reuse the language from the previous quadruple WTF post, and change a few words here and there, and alter the numbers a bit.


          The only question is if you can get there by the end of 2021.

          heh heh, at this rate, you’ll become a regular commentator on Marketwatch.

          Although you’ll have to really work on those bootlicking skills to pump the stock of the day if you’re looking to get onto CNBC, Fox Business, or Bloomberg.

        • Zantetsu says:

          It’s all just speculation on what you think other people will speculate on. Anyone who thinks that there needs to be some specific justification for a stock price is not thinking very deeply here. P/E ratios are nothing other than guidance on what you “think” other people might “think” but there is no guarantee that prices will follow P/E as is obviously being proven true now with TSLA.

          If you don’t like to gamble, don’t play; but grumbling about other people’s gambling is kinda pointless.

        • RightNYer says:

          Zanetsu, the reason we’re “grumbling” is because this type of reckless gambling is literally destabilizing the entire financial system and consequently, the economy.

          It’s not like a blackjack game where the losers go home a little pissed. This monster everything bubble will eventually pop and will have real consequences on everyone, including many people who not only can’t afford it, but had nothing to do with the bubble in the first place.

          It’s like watching a close friend or family member self-destructing on drugs. Yeah, you can say it’s his choice, but when he ends up in jail, chased by loansharks for money, or lying dead on your kitchen floor, it ultimately becomes your problem.

        • Zantetsu says:

          RightNYer, I agree with you on that. I used to grumble in the same way during dot-com in 1999/2000 because it seemed so ridiculous that thousands of millionnaires would be minted on nothing, didn’t seem like a productive use of the nation’s capital to make someone rich for creating a web site.

          And while I think that the allocation of capital is definitely not the most efficient, in hind sight, the frenzy of money being thrown at people at that time legitimized the “internet” industry and provided great incentive for the numerous follow-on successes we’ve seen since then. I personally could not care less about facebook, don’t use it, but I am pretty sure that it wouldn’t have come about without the dot-com craze and even though I don’t value it, a lot of people value what they get out of use of facebook very highly.

          Perhaps TSLA and other electric car manufacturers right now are the same sort of thing. Ridiculous valuations with the residual benefit of encouraging industry in a direction in which there was very little interest previously.

          Anyway, you know the old saying: if you can’t beat them, join them.

    • Yort says:

      Per Wolf, $38,077 avg auto price sold in US in 2020, with 14,460,000 autos sold…hence some fun with numbers as we crown the richest person on Earth today, Elon Musk:

      $3,039 (avg Tesla profit per auto last three Quarters)

      $3,039 profit/auto x 14,460,000 (all US autos sold 2020) = $43.8 Billion profit if ALL 2020 US autos bought in US were a Tesla

      $3,039 profit/auto x 62,000,000 (World-wide 2020 auto sales) = $188.4 Billion profit if ALL 2020 world autos bought were a Tesla

      So after hours tonight, TSLA is almost at $800,000,000,000 market cap (note that $800 billion in dollars laid end to end would wrap around the Earth 3,870 times)

      Therefore, if every vehicle sold in the world was a Tesla in 2020, it would take 4.3 years to make back the money you spend buying one share of TSLA, per profit margin of $3,029 on 62,000,000 autos sold world-wide.

      Numbers are fun and infinite, yet the world we live in is finite. A billionaire today said TSLA stock can easily triple on CNBC this morning, which would be a P/E of around 13 if every vehicle purchased world-wide in 2020 was a Tesla…possible but not probable. Yes the market cap “number” can triple, or even go up a trillion times…but do realize that it is just a “number” that investors in Tesla are playing via a game of musical chairs not tied to reality based existence. So enjoy the numbers game while it lasts…

      • Yort says:

        My bad as $800 billion wraps the world 3,096 times, $1 trillion wraps the world 3,870 times. I was stuck on the possibility that TSLA hits the rounded number $1,000 per share…and being up 7.94% today, and 1.65% after hours, the TSLA numbers game could hit $1,000 later next week at this rate. I’m facinated with how this all plays out, “best free entertainment ever” (minus of course the crippling Fed stealth inflation)…HA

      • otishertz says:

        Nice analysis. Hilarious.

      • Yancey Ward says:

        Oh, Yort, you are living in a fantasy world where math really matters.

    • MonkeyBusiness says:

      I already said on another thread that Elon will end up buying the United States. At that point, he’ll rewrite the constitution/law/anything required and install himself as President/God Emperor of the United States.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        Elon is no dummy. Knowing the global economic situation I doubt that he would want to own the US. However, he might lease it for four years. It’s done all the time.

  13. qt says:

    It looks like the peaks (1978, 1986, 2000, 2016) are getting wider between them in the first chart. I believe this is attributed to the technology that makes the cars/trucks run longer. I am driving a 2005 Lexus ES330. It is made in Japan and runs great. Just under 95k miles. I can drive this car for another 7 years (brought this in 2014 with 59k miles for $11k).

    Oh well, look for Cash for Clunkers 2.0 soon LOL

    • Depth Charge says:

      I never should have sold my 2003 Lexus ES300. It was mostly sitting around with 177,000 miles on it, so I sold it off 3 years ago. It looked like new inside, and ran just the same.

  14. VarAway says:

    Any thoughts about the newly created and the 4th (World) largest carmaker ” STELLANTIS ” fusion of FCA ( Fiat-Chrysler- Auto ) & PSA ( Peugeot-Citroen-Nissan ), Wolf?
    Their new headquarters are being registered in Amsterdam by
    all means.
    Seems to be ” neutral ” territory. ( probably favourable tax climate? )

    • Wolf Richter says:


      I suspect that you can remove Nissan from the package. My understanding is that the Japanese are trying to get Nissan out of this. Nissan is a Japanese crown jewel, and the Japanese government will bail it out, if needed. But that’s hard to do in a merged company/alliance.

      Neither Peugeots nor Citroens are sold in the US. And only a few Fiats are sold. So I don’t think this merger has a big impact on the US market.

      Chrysler has some good brands (Ram, Jeep, etc.), and if the new company is screwing them up — as can happen after mergers — this could spell a lot of trouble for Chrysler.

      • VarAway says:

        Thanks Wolf,
        I have to admit that I have not seen many Fiats in WI-
        Fly – Over country.
        Still love that new 124 Spider ragtop with a Mazda engine….

    • Questa Nota says:

      Stellantis, part of the Atlantis underwater archipelago? ;)

    • Engin-ear says:

      – “STELLANTIS ” fusion of FCA ( Fiat-Chrysler- Auto ) & PSA ( Peugeot-Citroen-Nissan ), ”

      Nissan is NOT a part of Stellantis.

      Nissan is currently in “partership” with French Renault Group (Renault has about 44% of Nissan stock)

      • VarAway says:

        Sorry Engin-ear, about Nissan.
        I stand corrected.

      • NBay says:

        Thanks much Engin, saved me some research I had jotted down.
        My ride is a 2012 Nissan Frontier and I am a total F-1 fan.

  15. michael earussi says:

    If you think this is bad wait until self driving taxis become available in most major cities. With door to door transportation service a lot of people would not bother to own a car.

  16. Ron Beard says:

    My truck is 15 years old. When I replace it, I want to replace it with a drivable classic. Something like a 1962-66 chevy body style with newer mechanics. A vehicle is supposed to take me from point A to point B. The new vehicles have too many bells and whistles, too many gadgets that they are not even enjoyable to drive. All the safety features make them almost unfixable. I want an vehicle I can enjoy driving, not one that overrides my every action. Given my choice, I would select a 1964 Studebaker Champ over a 2021 Silverado.

    • VintageVNvet says:

      Reminded me of the 1951 Studebaker convertible my dad won in a poker game of some sort, and let me use from age 16; literally a tank type convertible and thus very safe for a teenager.
      Once backed out of a diagonal parking place, heard a horn blaring so stopped and went a bit forward, looked back in the mirror and seeing nothing went backwards again and heard horn again, so stopped and got out and went and looked and saw a ’60 chevy sedan with it’s front quarter panel pushed against the frame and the whole vehicle pushed a couple feet sideways. Turned out the tail light of the studebaker had been the culprit, and was not even scratched, much less broken.
      Dad gave the guy the cash, just a couple hundred to have his car fixed,, so no points or insurance record for that one,,,

  17. David Hall says:

    Truck sales have taken market share from car sales. Auto leasing has been in an uptrend for years. Uber and Lyft are good, especially in areas with limited parking. Amazon delivery can assist people who can not afford cars. Instacart and Walmart deliver groceries.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      All leases are included in this because they’re “sales” for dealers who sell the vehicles to leasing companies, which then own them and lease them to the customer.

  18. otishertz says:

    La la la, Tesla.

    La la la dee da.

    Elohim Musk is now reportedly the richest man in the World!

    Doesn’t matter that car sales are collapsing, if you have enough stonks!

  19. It looks like the auto executives have been drinking the Kool-Aid of hedonic adjustments in CPI calculations to the point that they thought off-the-lot pricing for new vehicles could be increased to the Moon without consequences in volume of sales. While the auto executives have lived like the emperors of yore, the average American’s take-home pay has done little to make these rides progressively more affordable since the 1960’s. These companies have basically priced themselves out of their own markets.

    There are so many new features on these 2021 vehicles that you may need an MIT grad to help you master them. TOTAL OVERKILL, esp. in a new world of Covid 1,2,3 where total miles driven per year per consumer may never get back to 2019 levels for years. We really still do not have long-term data on the total effectiveness of some of the new accident avoidance technology and systems that few mechanics can either understand or service. A driver not texting, cell phoning, or putting on make-up is the best safety device I can come up with, and I went to Michigan, not MIT.

    Used vehicles with much improved longevity and reliability are one’s best choice. Just have a talented detailer around to make them almost as good as new, and there are plenty of upholstery upgrades that can make them better than new. The used car pricing right now is starting to reflect a deflating or deflated U.S. economy. It was temporarily elevated due to constrained supply in 2020, but that started changing by the Fourth Quarter.

    Bide your time, shop around on the internet until you find the ride that tickles your fancy and your wallet (use CarFax reports), bring your trusted mechanic with you, and walk out if you don’t get the deal you want. A buyer’s market is just around the corner. Unfortunately, some of the auto companies won’t be.

    • MiTurn says:

      “Used vehicles with much improved longevity and reliability are one’s best choice.”

      Agreed, DWY. They’re all I buy. Cars are so much better than even a decade or two ago, that buying used is the best option. Plus, if you can do your own mechanicking…moi…so much the better. When I shop for a replacement vehicle, it’s Craigslist!

  20. ram says:

    In Australia it seems all the motor vehicle dealers want to sell big ugly SUVs and pickup trucks. Fuel hogs all of them, and ugly too. No surprise if their sales are way down.

    The moment someone offers a lightweight fuel-efficient easily repairable basic decent looking reasonably priced automobile in Australia it will sell like hotcakes. I suspect that may be true for the Americas as well.

    • WES says:


      Sorry, “safety” laws have been passed everywhere to prevent this from happening! A moat by another name!

    • 32YO_Kid says:

      Exactly. Same situation in the U.S. it would be a welcomed change.
      “Low Quality, High Priced Vehicles” that all look obscenely ugly, almost as if they were melted and repainted. Loaded with plastic and crumple zones so eagerly designed to deploy an airbag and lock the seatbelts at the slightest tap, that the car becomes a total loss if older than 3 years old. Seriously, they put impact sensors closer and closer to the plastic bumper covers. Pathetic.

      • Anthony A. says:

        Airbags on newer cars are triggered by a G switch that measures the rate of decent of the auto and triggers the air bags if the rate is exceeded. No more trigger sensors in the nose of the car behind the bumper cover or on the bumper bar under the cover.

        • 32YO_Kid says:

          Arguably a worse idea. In terms of preserving an auto in a minor accident.

        • Anthony A. says:

          32YO_KId, yeah, triggering the airbags on a minor hit is very expensive as not only the airbag needs to be replaced, but the trigger module does too.

  21. Robert says:

    I would think that if people are moving away from cities (and public transportation) they will need cars. I think any decline in sales is temporary.

    Of course people could also be moving away from cities and
    finding a home in their local tent city. This might not be good for car sales in the long run.

  22. CLIVE says:

    Protest the lack of a tax rebate, stimulus, small business loan, unemployment by going on a buyer’s strike. Pay off loans, get out of debt and BUY NOTHING for a couple of years. That will hit the powers that be over the head with a 2×4, more than any protest, any letter writing, email campaign, petition etc.

  23. Bobber says:

    I’m surprised to see Nissan doing so poorly, relative to others. It’s a Japanese auto, so my impression is that it should have high qualify and reliability, not too far from Honda or Toyota. They have several attractive models covering all the bases – Titan (pickup truck), Frontier (small pickup), Altima (sedan), Sentra (small sedan), Murano (SUV), Pathfinder (SUV).

    What am I missing that everybody else knows about?

    • Stonedwino says:

      Yup. Wife & I both drive Nissans are they are the best cars we have owned and we have owned quite a few over the years. Very, very reliable and cheap to maintain.

    • Prof. Emeritus says:

      Nissan is a managerial disaster. Renault tried to save it, while they could (maybe heard about the infamous Carlos Ghosn story), but they got locked out of the company by the Japanese governing elite, now they share the same “Alliance” with Mitsubishi Motors with uncertain future. Despite most observations, quality usually has little to do with sales, it’s the so called “perceived quality” where they lag behind the most.

  24. Michael E says:

    Dr Lacy Hunt said that long term expansions wind up exhausting pent up demand. These down trends in car sales illustrate that perfectly…

  25. DUGTRUX says:

    Just remember in 1977-78 a new Monte Carlo loaded with every factory option could be had for 3995$ out the door. (plus tax)

    • Questa Nota says:

      Drove one of those as a company car, very good driving with longer wheelbase that smoothed out those 1970s roads. Add in A/C and a decent sound system, by 1970s standards, and it was fun. The price was right, too, so my own car was parked most of the time.

  26. 32YO_Kid says:

    I’m about to purchase a Jeep Grand Cherokee with 190,000 miles, quiet engine, well maintained and clean, everything works. For $3k. That’s the best I can do in this market and is very reasonable compared to the 6-7k asking price for a used one with similar trim and mileage.
    This market is absolute crap so but used if it’s a half decent make and model that you like and do maintenance yourself, at minimum. It’s far cheaper to pop in a used engine or trans if need be, than to buy or finance any of these ugly bubble looking SUV crossovers or cars that look like a child shoe and last just as long.

  27. Beardawg says:

    My 1971 VW Squareback with new electronics goes 0-60 in 4 minutes, but I have the time to go from A to B and nobody who looks at it even knows what it is. :-)

    • MiTurn says:

      And they’re probably not going to put it up on blocks and kipe our wheels..

  28. YuShan says:

    Auto business looks so terrible to me. Massive investments needed for EV but that will only replace the existing ICE vehicles, no new profits. And EV lasts longer, less maintenance and likely to have lower margins (less parts, much more easy to commoditise). And when self driving taxis become a thing offering cheap rides, people like myself who only use a car occasionally might get rid of a privately owned car altogether.

    • Old School says:

      I think the norm for most new technologies is the stock investments tend to boom and then bust with limited survivers. If you don’t have inside information it’s probably just a roulette wheel. Spin it a few times you might get lucky, play everyday you will end up broke.

    • El Katz says:

      Wait until the lower maintenance requirements of EV’s come home to roost for the automobile dealers who built these mausoleums with 100 service bays. The dealership facilities (which are pretty much single use buildings) are going to join the shopping malls on the white elephant list. I’m not sure that the bigger ones would even convert to a good bowling alley.

  29. P Ch says:

    It would be interesting to compare car sales to bicycle sales or even gas powered bicycle sales. I’ve seen a lot more of these buzzing around my area. (South Florida)

    • RightNYer says:

      I almost hit one of those stupid things on Federal Highway the other day. They drive like animals.

  30. Max Power says:

    Nissan’s upcoming electric crossover, the Ariya, looks very nice and will have similar range to the Tesla Model Y crossover. Early previews of it have been promising. Hopefully it sells well.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Nissan needs it! But it will face lots of competition in that space. Good thing is Nissan has years of experience in EV tech, unlike some of the others.

      • Max Power says:

        Well, the only real competition to the Ariya at this point is the Tesla Model Y, the VW ID.4 and the Ford Mustang Mach-E.

        The Hyundai Kona’s technology is a bit outdated and the GM’s Bolt EUV might be too small to fit in the same category.

        Like I said, the Ariya looks very promising… assuming they can price it right.

      • NBay says:

        And as I’ve said before, a big key to all this working out is regenerative braking.
        Renault is an F-1 engine/powertrain supplier…and doing well, too!

  31. Stonedwino says:

    I don’t get the Nissan issue. I drove German, VW, BMW & Audi my entire life until buying my Murano. It already has 135,000 miles and counting. Most reliable car I’ve had to date and the cost of maintenance is a mere fraction of the former German cars -which I stopped buying due to the ludicrous cost of long term maintenance, as I do drive well over 35K miles per year.
    Love the Murano 3.5L V6 engine, getting 24.6 miles per gallon average!!! And I have to say I don’t mind the CVT transmission – very smooth. Bought my wife a 2018 Pathfinder and we are super happy with that SUV as well. Again, very reliable. Both cars still look & run like new. No rattles, squeaks or fit & trim issues. Cars are way more reliable and durable than they used to be.

  32. Stonedwino says:

    @ Max Power agree – the new Nissan Ariya looks amazing and looks to be a deal. I would never buy a Tesla POS

  33. DanS86 says:

    I thought SUV’s where supposed to save ’em? Guess the Younger’s can’t afford the shiny metal.

  34. Stillastudent says:

    The auto industry has never been a profitable investment vehicle (pun!) but a source of employment for sovereign states. (Berkshire Hathaway doesn’t own automobile stock). Thus, foreign makers have established domestic assembly plants to avoid tariffs and other obstructions to market entry. They will produce what that country’s market demands-witness Toyota Tundra monsters as big as F-150s or Silverados. In Canada the largest selling single model has been the Honda Civic for decades. My “new” car is a 2000 Civic hatchback- change the oil and anti-freeze and occasionally the plugs and keep driving. The spoilers in the market are those irritable manufactures who keep improving drive train durability (Japanese) rather than adding electronic crap to justify price increases. GM, Ford and Chrysler started on the slippery slope to oblivion in the 1970’s.

  35. timbers says:

    We need a new financing vehicle to buy vehicles so to make the economy better:

    1). Stimulus checks every month.
    2). Loans against stimulus checks. Just sign your stimulus payment over the the auto dealer.
    3). More QE so Jerome’s rich friends stay out of sight on the low.

    I suppose you could even call this Pay-day loans, so the fees should be equally exorbitant.

    Nancy says beautiful sight in HK. China says beautiful sight in Washington. Beauty is in the eye of the one holding the stimulus check.

  36. Looking at these charts you wonder if the boom bust cycle isn’t a flaw in the consumer/industrial product model or the result of Fed bubble policy. In our post war economy recessions started after small slowdowns snowballed, consumers and workers being in a symbiotic relationship. Would a socialist command economy have done better, can we learn anything from China? Certainly the recession we are in is not organic to economic circumstances. The pullback in car sales is a pullback in tech spending. If you are just sitting at home, the old PC will do just fine.

  37. Heinz says:

    I was wondering why your charts start at 2013. If I am correct I believe there was a comparable plunge in US vehicle sales during GFC in 2009. That would add some temporal context to our current auto slump.

    Anyway, commenters made some interesting points regarding causal factors of waning auto demand.

    Observe the pandemic’s WFA paradigm going forward, and you might expect it to chill down robust auto demand (if you are not racking up mileage commuting there is less wear and tear etc). That is, for as long as WFA remains viable (it may not last long).

    Also, scuttlebutt has it that millennials are a generation not enamored with car ownership and many have managed using Uber, Lyft, and other forms of transportation. Perhaps that will continue to play out.

    Build quality and reliability of vehicles built in recent decades has been very good overall and so there is less compelling urge in uncertain economic times to buy new every few years to insure reliability and performance in transportation.

    Whether new or used, cost of car ownership is a not insignificant drain on average pocketbook due to routine maintenance, tires, fuel, taxes, and insurance. I don’t foresee these getting cheaper in future.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      “I was wondering why your charts start at 2013”

      Here is why: I don’t have enough time. I don’t have access to some Big Data machine. I need to go to each company’s press releases or SEC filings for that year to dig out that number. With US companies, I can go to the SEC, which is easier. With the others I have to find the old press releases, which is more time consuming. And it’s mind-numbing work. If I have some hours of free time, I might add a few more years going back. But you’re asking to go back to 2006. That would be 8 companies, each for 7 years, which would be 56 documents I will have to find. Not sure if I can even get the data for Kia, Hyundai, and Nissan going back that far.

      But by the industry data I gave you in the first chart, you can kind of tell what individual automakers looked like during those years.

      • Ken says:

        Wolf. Thank you for all of your hard work!

      • Heinz says:

        Thanks for the explanation.

        Your hard work does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

      • NBay says:

        Kinda like an independent mechanic trying to get the latest TSBs, schematics, engine mapping and other software from the manufacturers.
        By law they are supposed to be able to, but they don’t make it easy or cheap or 100% accurate. At JC auto shop they paid IIRC $1000/mo each to two 3rd parties available to students on computers. The head auto shop instructor paid $1000/yr to keep his top of the line Snap-On OBD code reader up to date. And that was in 2012.

  38. Crush the Peasants! says:

    The new Corvette Stingray is a grounbreaking introduction, kind of like the Mata was. Universal praise by the reviewers. Priced extremely competitively, versus comparable sports cars. Overkill for getting from point A to point B, but that is not the point.

    In general, I find car ads to be quite amusing. I love watching the brands show their luxury SUV’s going for it off road, or drifting. As if. One of my fave 3 series wanna be ads is the Acura TLX. Like Suburban Joe is gonna drift around the neighborhood in that car. Look out kids!

    All time fave – the Dodge brothers. Two competitve psychos driven by their need to drive fuel thirsty, large engined muscle machines. What was up wth that?

    • Sam says:

      Historic note: were it not for the Dodge Bros. supplying 650 engines/chassis to Henry Ford in 1903, as Henry credit & name was zip/zero with Motown bankers/finance, the Model T might not have come to exist.
      Henry Ford did not deal well being dependent upon a singular supplier, but being of limited (already having several bankruptcies) options…he dealt with it.
      When the Dodge Bros. cashed out, they began building their own car in 1915, they executed an advertising campaign orchestrated by archetypal adman Theodore McManus with slogans like “Think of all the Ford owners who would like to own an Automobile,”

  39. lenert says:

    The piece on this website about Tesla last week was 24 percent ago.

  40. intosh says:

    According to an article in the Financial Times today, automakers are facing severe semiconductor shortage and are forced to cut production.

    ” “After the industry shutdown in the early phase of the crisis and the resulting abrupt drop in demand, automobile manufacturers across all regions increased their production volumes much faster than expected by market experts,” Continental said, which resulted in a rush on semiconductors. ”

    ” “With lead times of six to nine months, the semiconductor industry has not been able to scale up fast enough to meet this unexpected growth in automotive demand,” it added, saying overbooking at silicon foundries was part of the problem.”

    ” “The problem is that we are lower down the chain than companies like Apple and HP,” said one executive. “The auto sector doesn’t pay as much for its semiconductors.” “

  41. doug says:

    Thank you. I swear on Monday morning, local ABC sinclair news, I was told GM had set a record for car sales. I did not think it was not true, but glad to read this.
    I now think they were possibly referring to world wide sales. But that was not the way it was presented…
    I do appreciate your hard work to present relevant facts in a cogent fashion.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      This is precisely why I said that automakers are promoting “cherry-picked” data points that are very specific, and then all people remember is “record.” In Q4, GM was #1 in high-end pickup sales, beating Ford. And in Q4, it set a record in “average transaction prices” at a whopping $41,886, thanks to those high-end pickups.

      Raising prices and going upscale to new records. They’re all doing it. For the whole industry, average transaction prices were up 9% year-over-year in December.

  42. random guy 62 says:

    The age of the commenters really shows on automotive articles.

    Sure, sure, they don’t make them like the used to…

    Let me guess, you walked to school in two feet of snow, uphill both ways too? :)

    • Wolf Richter says:

      random guy 62,

      I like that actually. It always makes me smile.

      There are also a lot of commenters here who will occasionally let loose a comment about the new Mustang or BMW they’re burning rubber with, or the latest screamer of a street-legal racing motorbike, or the latest Tesla or whatever. But people don’t want to come across as bragging, which makes sense.

      Articles about new vehicles whose sales have been declining for years bring out commenters whose own stories shed light on one aspect of why sales have been declining. And this is in part why the average age of vehicles on the road has been increasing every year, for many years, and in 2020 reached 11.9 years. I look at these comments like boots-on-the-ground anecdotal evidence of this:

      • VintageVNvet says:

        EXACTLY Wolf,, anecdotal evidence to be sure!
        Before 1977, when the new yorker mag published a very long article over several issues regarding the very clear results of the epidemiology of the asbestos situation and the clearly scandalous behaviours of the asbestos manufacturers, anecdotal evidence would routinely be cast aside as incomplete and certainly not reliable in any way by most if not all scholarly folks.
        After that, the same statistical based concepts of epidemiology have continued not only to gain ground as reliable, but have come to be somewhat of an acceptable alternative to double blind with placebo studies of the same and/or similar phenomena/events for the social/medical sciences.
        As a formerly serious student of the rigor of the ”hard” sciences, it is still somewhat of a challenge for me to accept the very much less than rigourous ”assumptions” that are the basic foundations of epidemiology, not to mention the rest of the ”social” sciences, including of course, economics, but also IMHO the ”medical sciences” many of which conclusions certainly seem to be based on less than rigourous protocols and practices, as, perhaps, the current covid virus has helped to make more clear.
        While folks go on about the ”null theory”,, etc., it seems to me that scientific reports , per se, really and truly must be based on reproducible results and nothing else; the rest must be considered as opinionating, something I am very pleased you do not do unless you label it clearly.
        Thank you,

        • NBay says:

          Very true. Even the “hard sciences” are pushing the envelope when it comes to things that are very small, i.e., in molecular biology. But it doesn’t bother the profit driven folks one bit…..to them the null hypothesis is judged in dollars.

          Late night I see tons of drug and medical product ambulance chasers, and even still for asbestos. Glad my hernia mesh seems to be out of their time span.

      • NBay says:

        Along that line, I remember the ad saying, “9 out of 10 Volvos registered in the last 10 years is still on the road”. Date was 1970 +/- a few years per this aged commenter.

    • Anthony A. says:

      I’ve been driving for 61 years and had 50+ cars (car junkie) ranging from early Corvettes to BMW roadsters. Throw in 6 pickup trucks along the way.

      I did walk to school at 14 years old in two feet of snow, but only uphill in one direction. LOL!!

      And yes, they don’t make them like they used to! (that goes for everything)

      • ft says:

        Anthony, I’ve been at it 55 years and owned 41 cars, trucks and motorcycles. Fellow junkie. Current Z4, in spite of being buried in gimmicky electronics, is probably the best of them. Those who view cars as appliances rightfully find ways to spend less on them, but miss out on the pleasure their saved money might have bought. Anyway, we’ve done more than our part to keep the auto industry alive.

      • NBay says:

        I hope you guys still take those hot rigs to the track to see what it and you really have, like I used to do on dirt bikes. Or on Sunday morning rides on hopefully mostly deserted roads. As a follower of F-1, I really appreciate the tech that goes into high performance stuff, a lot.

        But I really don’t like seeing either displayed on the freeway and scaring the hell out of people just going to the grocery, not to mention the danger.

        • ft says:

          NBay, you might notice from the number of years we’ve been driving that we’ve both been adults for a long time.

    • tom20 says:

      Two feet in the morning, three feet on the walk home.

  43. Shiloh1 says:

    Cobalt Mary Barra should go to Boeing.

  44. breamrod says:

    bought a 2009 Toyota Tacoma new in April of 09. Great little truck. Still driving it. Another example of why the average car/truck on the road is 11 years old? I bet we see another cash for clunkers sometimes within the next two years?

  45. c1ue says:

    The issue is structural but not what you’re implying, Wolf.
    The average age of the car on the road is ~12 years.
    There are 110 million households in the United States. Even assuming 2 cars per household (untrue because significant numbers of these households are one person), 220 million/12 = 18.33 million. Subtract a few million (7.5 million according to government: https://enviroatlas.epa.gov/enviroatlas/DataFactSheets/pdf/Supplemental/NumberofHouseholdsWithZeroVehicles.pdf#:~:text=A%20recent%20study%20by%20the%20Brookings%20Institute%20found,high-skill%20jobs%2C%20retail%20services%2C%20health%20care%2C%20and%20recreation plus some significant number of really poor rural people) households in the big cities who don’t have cars (like mine) and 15 million new cars sold per year doesn’t seem unreasonably low.

  46. Sam says:

    NTSB ‘suggested’ BA rehire Alan Mulally (former BA comm. aircraft ceo & Ford ceo) as BA ceo.
    Having an engineering background & aviation career trajectory (at BA) probably placed Alan as odd person out given ”Mgmt by Excell/MBA” BA’s executive herd mentality.
    Round & round the executive merry-go-round search continues in a quest for “leadership” as the ship[s] flounders/goes down.
    “Herd speak/thought” is always most valued the more mature grows . Innovation is for folks like Senor Musk [no position either side] to execute upon.

  47. Ben says:

    I’d like to buy a new car, but find I can’t justify it with the future as it is.. Need my cash in case of job loss or collapse of the US gov.

    I’m picky, and see a used car that interests me once a month. They sell before I can look.

    So my current ride is in bad shape guess I will keep it patched up for now. Don’t drive much anyway.

  48. Joe says:

    New cars are too expensive, and too full of electronics and technology for which I have no interest.

    Since large sedans are gone, the cheapest Chevy I can find with a front bench seat (which doesn’t look that comfortable) is a Chevy Tahoe LS which MSRP is a hair over $50,000!

    I make a good salary, but no asset is worth being hit with $10,000 depreciation the first 12 months. So I continue to drive my Grand Marquis that I paid cash for in 2005.

    • Sam says:

      Caddy Escalade avg. is $105k and comes with one the worst records for maintenance & reliability.
      Source: Independent mech. shops owners whose wives drive them. Nothing emits profuse blood letting from a mechanic as having to frequently work on wife’s ride.
      GM nailed down their target mrkt: upscale mommy missiles.

Comments are closed.