SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The car shopping experts at Edmunds say that March will be a down month for the auto industry due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, forecasting that 1,044,805 new cars and trucks will be sold in the U.S. for an estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 11.9 million. This reflects a 35.5% decrease in sales from March 2019 and a 23.4% decrease from February 2019. 

Edmunds experts note that the downturn in March will also lead to a drop in quarterly sales, forecasting that 3,546,415 new cars and trucks will be sold in the first quarter of 2020, which reflects an 11.8% decrease from the first quarter of 2019. 

“The first two months of the year started off at a healthy sales pace, but the market took a dramatic turn in mid-March as more cities and states began to implement stay-at-home policies due to the coronavirus crisis, and consumers understandably shifted their focus to other things,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights. “The whole world is turned upside down right now, and the auto industry is unfortunately not immune to the wide-ranging economic impacts of this unprecedented pandemic.” 

Edmunds analysts note that the nationwide shutdown of auto manufacturing facilities and limited inventory mean that automakers aren’t currently pressured to offer attractive incentives on new vehicles, but that will likely change as the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve. 

“Automakers can count on capturing some deferred demand once we get past the worst of this pandemic, but since they’ll be competing with so many other companies for consumer spending at that point, they’re really going to need to create incentives to spur some sales,” said Caldwell. “Things might look a bit bleak as automakers are taking a hit right now across the board, but the massive stimulus package deal that was just announced is an encouraging update. History has shown us that this industry can survive through almost any financial or natural disaster, and we’re confident that they’re going to come out of this tough period on the other side.”

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Edmunds estimates that retail SAAR will come in at 8.8 million vehicles in March, with fleet transactions accounting for 26.3% of total sales.

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