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Economy in Brief

U.S. Light Vehicle Sales Continued to Increase in August
by Tom Moeller  September 1, 2020

• Monthly increase shows biggest gains in domestically-made vehicles.

• Year-to-year decline shrinks.

The Autodata Corporation reported that sales of light vehicles rose 4.5% last month (-11.7% y/y) to 15.18 million units (SAAR) from 14.53 million in July. It was the fourth consecutive monthly increase from a low of 8.74 million in April. (Sales figures before August were slightly revised.) Sales strength this quarter builds upon the 0.08 percentage point addition to real Q2 GDP from higher vehicle sales.

Despite the latest increases, sales remained near or below the average 15.15 million in Q1'20 and 17.05 million in Q4'19. Lower vehicle sales subtracted 0.78 points from Q1'20 real GDP growth.

Auto sales increased 3.1% (-23.0% y/y) last month to 3.62 million units but remained well below their peak level of 7.71 million unit sales reached in 2014. Purchases of domestically-produced cars rose 4.0% (-23.1% y/y) to 2.63 million units following a 24.6% July jump. Sales of imported cars improved 2.1% m/m (-22.7% y/y) to 0.99 million units after holding steady in July.

Sales of light trucks improved 5.0% (-7.4% y/y) during August to 11.57 million units, the highest level in six months. Purchases of domestically-made light trucks rose 6.4% (-7.9% y/y) to 9.19 million units after a 14.0% July gain. Working the other way, sales of imported light trucks eased 0.4% (-6.0% y/y) to 2.37 million units after falling 10.2% in July.

Trucks' share of the U.S. light vehicle market recovered to 76.2% after falling in each of the prior two months. It remained up from a low of 48.8% during all of 2012.

As sales of imported vehicles held steady last month, imports' share of the U.S. vehicle market again fell sharply to 22.1% from a high of 27.4% in June. Imports' share of the passenger car market weakened to 27.3%, down from a high of 32.4% in May. Imports share of the light truck market similarly fell sharply to 20.5%, a five-month low.

U.S. vehicle sales figures can be found in Haver's USECON database. Additional detail by manufacturer is in the INDUSTRY database.

Light Weight Vehicle Sales (SAAR, Million Units) Aug Jul Jun Aug Y/Y % 2019 2018 2017
Total 15.18 14.53 13.23 -11.7 17.06 17.32 17.23
 Autos 3.62 3.51 3.00 -23.0 4.82 5.40 6.17
  Domestic 2.63 2.53 2.03 -23.1 3.53 4.05 4.58
  Imported 0.99 0.97 0.97 -22.7 1.29 1.36 1.59
 Light Trucks 11.57 11.02 10.23 -7.4 12.24 11.92 11.07
  Domestic 9.19 8.64 7.58 -7.9 9.70 9.44 9.00
  Imported 2.37 2.38 2.65 -6.0 2.54 2.48 2.07
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