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Bumpy ride: First-quarter auto sales reflect a shifting market

Kalea Hall, Luke Ramseth and Breana Noble, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

The auto industry is traveling a bumpy path to recovery since the pandemic as most makers reported first-quarter sales gains with three notable exceptions: General Motors Co., Stellantis NV and Tesla Inc., all of which saw declines.

Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Subaru Corp., Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Volkswagen AG all saw year-over-year sales gains. And while Ford Motor Co. reported a 6.8% sales gain with the help of its hot hybrid options, the Dearborn automaker did lean on incentives to move vehicles, experts say.

The uneven market reflects high interest rates, slowing growth in electric vehicle demand and a move by consumers toward lower-priced models.

GM sales dipped 1.5%, driven mainly by a drop in fleet deliveries, while the numbers were especially bleak for Stellantis, down 10%, and Tesla, the U.S. electric-vehicle market leader, down nearly 9%.

Paul Waatti, director of industry analysis for AutoPacific, a marketing research and consulting firm, pointed to increasing EV competition for Tesla's first quarterly sales drop in four years.

"We're starting to finally see Tesla volumes being chipped away by these new entrants," Waatti said.


Inventory levels across the industry may be getting back to pre-pandemic levels, but with the average new-vehicle price near $48,000, shoppers are looking for less-expensive options, and foreign automakers have more of them to offer.

"Think about the segments that GM, Stellantis, Ford don't even compete in anymore," said Ivan Drury, director of insights at Inc., a vehicle information website. "They've left it all to the Koreans, the Japanese ... for the most part, if you look at the hole in the American lineup, it's been filled this entire time with those other brands, so they really are making the right vehicles for the right time."

Drury noted Honda and Toyota are turning vehicles so fast "that they would be selling even more of them if they could make enough of them."

Ford sold 508,083 vehicles in the first quarter, with growth in hybrids, EVs and internal combustion engine products.


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