GM might lose 90-year U.S. sales crown over chip shortage

Automotive News editor Nick Bunkley tweeted on October 1 that according to AutoNews data, General Motors “has been the largest seller of vehicles in the U.S. every year since passing Ford in 1931.” With automakers having turned in light car and truck sales data for the first three quarters of 2021, GM’s 90-year-run might not reach 91. According to AN figures, Toyota was 80,401 vehicles ahead when the October workday started. Worse, GM is so far behind its historic pace that it might only sell enough light vehicles in the U.S. to match its numbers from 1958. 

Meanwhile, the New York Times put a few more salient numbers to the pain GM and Toyota are enduring alongside the the rest of the industry. GM sold 33% fewer cars in Q3 2021 than it did in Q3 2019 during the dark days of the pandemic, 446,997 units this year as opposed to 665,192 last year. GM’s Q3 2020 was only down 13% on Q3 2019. Over at Toyota, the bottom line showed a 1% gain in Q3 2021 compared to 2020, with 566,005 units moved off dealer lots. The finer numbers show two steps forward and one step back, though; Toyota’s September sales were down 22% compared to last year. 

GM remains optimistic about what’s ahead, GM’s president of North American operations telling the NYT, “We look forward to a more stable operating environment through the fall.” We’d like to see that happen, but we don’t know how it happens.

The chip shortage said to have been the inciting incident for the current woes isn’t over, and not only can no one agree when it will be over, the automakers, chip producers, and U.S. government still can’t get on the same page about who needs what and when. Looking away from that for a second shows articles about “No End In Sight” for supply chain disruptions in early September, before China had to start working through power supply constraints, global supply chain workers started warning of a “system collapse,” and roughly 500,000 containers sat waiting to be unloaded at Southern California ports — a record number seemingly broken every week. And back to chips, we’re told just a few days ago the chip shortage is “worse than we thought.”  

For now, the NYT wrote that GM dealer inventory is down 40% from June to roughly 129,000 vehicles, and down 84% from the days when dealers would cumulatively keep about 800,000 light vehicles in stock. However, GM just announced it would have almost all of its U.S. facilities back online next week, although some would run at partial capacity. Dealers will be glad to hear that, probably never more desperate for product to sell. There’s a 90-year record at stake, after all. 

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