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California New Car & Truck Sales Plunged 21.7% in 2020, Far Worse than US Total. Even Tesla Sales Fell. Nissan’s Collapsed. But EV Market Share Rose to 6.2%


Even the huge used-vehicle market got knocked down, except for older, cheaper used vehicles.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

Registrations of new cars and light trucks in California plunged by 21.7% in 2020, the fourth down-year in a row and the sharpest percentage decline since 2009, to 1.64 million vehicles, according to the California New Car Dealers Association (CNCDA). Sales to retail customers plunged by 16.8%, while sales to fleets, such as rental car companies, collapsed by 39.5%.

By comparison: In the US overall in 2020, total auto sales, including fleets, dropped by 14.4% to 14.65 million vehicles. For California and the US, both, 2016 was the peak. California, with about 17% of the US population, accounted for 11% of US auto sales:

There is a timing difference between “registrations” (the data for California) and “deliveries” (the data for the US). After a vehicle is “delivered” by the dealer to the final customer, it takes a while before it’s “registered” with the DMV. But the timing difference is about the same every year, so the difference generally cancels out in year-over-year comparisons.

Registration fell in all four quarters on a year-over-year basis and have now declined on a year-over-year basis for 15 quarters in a row:

  • Q1: -4.3%
  • Q2: – 48.9%
  • Q3: -19.6%
  • Q4: -12.6%

All automakers booked declining sales in 2020 in California, ranging from the breath-taking 43% collapse at Nissan/Mitsubishi to the 4.4% decline for Volvo, the smallest automaker in California.

Registrations of Teslas in the year fell by 4.6% to 71,390. As Tesla ramped up its global sales in 2020 to nearly 500,000 vehicles, California’s share of Tesla’s global sales fell from a share of 20% in 2019 to a share of 14% in 2020.

Even sales of battery-electric vehicles fell by 4.7% from a year earlier to 101,628 vehicles, but that decline was tame compared to the plunge in the overall market, and so the market share of BEVs rose to a record 6.2%:

In California, Toyota is undisputed #1, and has been for many years, with a huge lead in market share over Honda and GM. In the US overall, GM was #1, Toyota #2, Ford #3, Fiat-Chrysler #4, and Honda #5. Tesla is marked in red so you can easily see it down the list. Tesla’s share of the overall market in California rose to 4.4%, up from 3.8% in the prior year.

Even the huge used-vehicle market got knocked down.

Used-vehicle registrations fell by 8.5% to 3.5 million vehicles. The used vehicle market is huge, over twice the size of the new vehicle market in terms of registrations (1.64 million).

This decline comes on the backdrop of used vehicle prices that exploded by 15% between July and October 2020, after massive supply disruptions in the wholesale markets. Since then prices have settled down a little but remain 10% higher year-over-year.

Given this pricing scenario, and the unemployment crisis still playing out in California, sales of older and cheaper used vehicles (7-10 years old) rose, while sales of newer and more expensive used vehicles fell:

  • 3 years old or newer: -11.2%
  • 4-6 years old: -6.9%
  • 7-10 years old: +3.3%

Now all hopes are on the first quarter.

Surely, auto sales can’t get any worse than this, the thinking goes, and that may be true. And in terms of dealers, they’re cashing in because prices are red hot.

Supply disruptions continue to dog the automakers, with a chip shortage currently hitting new vehicle production, in addition to the supply chain entanglements that the industry has had to grapple with.

So supply has been tight, and might get tighter, despite the sharp drop in demand — unlike during the Financial Crisis, when demand collapsed and supply continued to pile up, with millions of vehicles stored at ports of entry and on lots around the country. During the Pandemic, demand has dropped but supply has dropped even more, and prices are high and rising despite the drop in demand.

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