For the first time since 1931, GM is not the best car seller in the United States

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Toyota Motor Corp. seized the crown of U.S. sales from General Motors Co., earning an honor the Detroit automaker has held since Herbert Hoover was president.

If GM’s explanation – that its 43% drop in fourth-quarter sales and 13% drop for the year is to be believed – stemmed from a semiconductor shortage – then the sales race for the he last year was truly a re-enactment of the supply chain. Whoever could best cajole the producers of stretched crisps for more product came out the winner.

Navigating compression has been a nightmare for the auto industry, and especially for American automakers. While GM sales fell for the year, Toyota, Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. posted gains.

Toyota may not be No. 1 – the place GM had been in since 1931 – for a long time.

“We consider this to be unsustainable,” said Jack Hollis, senior vice president of auto operations at Toyota, without giving further details Tuesday in a briefing for reporters.

GM agreed. Steve Carlisle, the automaker’s president for North America, said the company will increase sales this year. Most of the major automakers reported fourth-quarter U.S. sales on Tuesday. Ford Motor Co. is expected to release its figures on Wednesday.

“Our dealers and engineering, supply chain, manufacturing and branding teams have moved mountains to satisfy as many customers as possible in 2021,” Carlisle said in a statement. “In 2022, we plan to build on the strength of the economy and improved semiconductor supplies expected to increase our sales and share. “

To regain its leadership position, GM will need to go back to something closer to the 2.5 million vehicles the company delivered in 2020. It certainly can. In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic and the semiconductor shortage, GM sold about 2.9 million vehicles.

Market share is vital to GM’s long-term goal of doubling revenues to $ 280 billion. This will require keeping buyers of gasoline cars and trucks and stealing new ones who want EVs.

And as production resumes, GM may not want all the sales it can get. Domestic automakers typically keep 80 days of vehicles on dealership lots, while Japanese automakers keep only 50 days. A finer inventory allows for better pricing and greater profit.

Consumers today are paying record prices because automakers don’t need rebates and dealers don’t need to bargain hard.

“Domestic producers will operate at 50 to 60 days instead of 80, although that means a smaller market share,” said Kevin Tynan, analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “It may mean that they are not the biggest automaker, but they will be a lot healthier from a financial point of view.”

For Toyota to stay ahead, it would need a much larger share of the US market than before. Toyota’s share rose to 14.3% in 2020 from 14% in 2018. GM was 17.3%, little change from the 17.1% it reached in 2018, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Overall, it has been a tough year for the industry and ended on a bitter note. Automakers likely sold a seasonally adjusted annual rate of around 12.5 million new vehicles in December, down 23% from the previous year, according to average forecasts from six market researchers polled by Bloomberg.

For the year as a whole, auto sales in the United States likely hit 14.9 million vehicles, up 2.5% from the coronavirus days of 2020, according to Cox Automotive. Automakers typically sell more than 16 million vehicles per year.

The chip shortage has forced GM to allocate supply to its most profitable vehicles. Fourth-quarter sales of the Chevy Silverado fell more than 30 percent and fell 21 percent for the GMC Sierra, but a spokesperson said the company still sells more full-size pickup trucks than anyone else.

Sales soared for the large Chevy Tahoe and Suburban sport utility vehicles, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade – the company’s most profitable models.

Toyota’s strong performance in 2021 was supported by sales of sedans such as the Corolla and Camry. The RAV4 remained the automaker’s best-selling vehicle, although sales fell 5% for the year. Sales of the Corolla and Camry increased 5% and 6.6% respectively.

Nissan sales fell 20% in the fourth quarter but rose 8.7% for the year. The small SUVs Nissan Rogue and Kicks were strong sellers.

Judy Wheeler, Nissan’s vice president of sales, said the company strives to allocate few semiconductors to the vehicles it needs most, but that’s not always possible. She likened the puzzle to aligning colors on a Rubik’s Cube.

“Each month got stronger,” she said. “Our next quarter will be better when it comes to production. We believe we are returning to normal production levels. It may not be the ideal mix, but production levels will be normal. “

Honda also boosted sales for the year despite falling sharply at the end. December’s tally fell 23%, but sales rose 8.9% for the year.

The compact CR-V crossover led deliveries, up 8.3%. The compact Civic and Accord mid-size sedans also performed well, continuing the dominance of Asian brands in the segment. Among Honda’s biggest winners are its Ridgeline pickup and Passport mid-size SUV, both of which have been redesigned to feature a more rugged look.

Hyundai Motor Co.’s namesake brand was one of the big winners last year, registering a 19% increase. But the South Korean automaker also lost momentum at the end of the year, with a 23% drop in sales in December contributing to a 15% drop in the fourth quarter.

Retail sales in the United States were the highest on record for the company, supported by demand for the economy Venue subcompact crossover model, which starts at under $ 20,000, as well as the sub-SUV. compact Kona and the compact Tucson SUV.

Hyundai had inventory levels on par with its Japanese competitors, but availability plummeted at the end of the year.

“You’re getting better at online retailing and improving your pipeline’s presale,” said Randy Parker, senior vice president of sales at Hyundai Motor America. “That’s exactly what we did, and it helped fuel our success during a very difficult year. “

– Bloomberg writer Keith Naughton contributed to this report.


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