March auto sales are sure to show a huge percent increase, compared with March 2020, when auto sales fell sharply, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Nevertheless, it’s still a seller’s market. According to J.D. Power and LMC Automotive, average transaction price — the amount retail customers actually pay, taking incentives into account — is expected to reach a record high for the month of March of $37,286.
J.D. Power and LMC Automotive predict March sales of almost 1.5 million cars and trucks in March 2021. That would be up almost 44% vs. March 2020. To put that in some context, that would be down about 5% vs. March 2019.
TrueCar Inc. has a similar forecast, up about 42% from a year ago. Automakers in the U.S. market report March sales on April 1, according to Autodata Corp.
For the first quarter, J.D. Power and LMC Automotive expect auto sales of about 3.7 million, up 8% from the first quarter of 2020. TrueCar expects first-quarter sales to be up about 10% from a year ago.
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March 2020 was when auto factories started closing, and showrooms representing a majority of U.S. auto sales started shutting down, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
For all of 2020, U.S. auto sales were down 15%, to 14.5 million. Monthly auto sales bottomed out in April 2020, and it took until September 2020 for new-vehicle sales to get back to year-ago levels.
That was largely because of manufacturing plant shutdowns and a slow restart, and not for lack of demand, once showrooms started opening again in May 2020. In early 2021, a shortage of computer chips has served to further delay a full recovery in production.
The downside for consumers is that demand continues to outstrip supply. In addition, the consumer shift to trucks, especially pickups, SUVs and crossover vehicles, is also contributing to the rise in average transaction price, since trucks on average are bigger and more expensive than cars.
According to the forecast from J.D. Power and LMC, SUVs and trucks are on a pace to account for a combined 77% of retail sales. That would be the highest truck mix on record for the month of March, and up from 73% a year ago.