J.D. Power: Lack of Supply Continues to Limit New Vehicle Sales in December

New-vehicle retail sales for December 2021 are expected to decline when compared with December 2020, according to a joint forecast from J.D. Power in Troy and LMC Automotive.
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SUV cars on a parking
A joint report from J.D. Power and LMC Automotive shows December sales are expected to drop year-over-year due to supply issues. // Stock Photo

New-vehicle retail sales for December 2021 are expected to decline when compared with December 2020, according to a joint forecast from J.D. Power in Troy and LMC Automotive.

Retail sales of new vehicles this month are expected to reach 1,105,800 units, a 17.4 percent decrease compared with December 2020 when adjusted for selling days. December 2021 has one fewer selling day than December 2020. Comparing the same sales volume without adjusting for the number of selling days translates to a decrease of 20.4 percent from 2020.

“Despite inventory shortages constraining December sales volumes, there are several good news stories for the industry,” says Thomas King, president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power. “Retail inventory is showing some improvement, tracking at just more than 1 million units for the first time since July and transaction prices and retailer profits are at record highs.

“Retailers continue to sell most vehicles nearly as soon as they arrive in inventory. This December, a record of nearly 57 percent of vehicles will be sold within 10 days of arriving at a dealership, while the average number of days a new vehicle sits on a dealer lot before being sold is on pace to fall to 17 days, a record low and down from 49 days a year ago.”

Total new-vehicle sales for December 2021, including retail and non-retail transactions, are projected to reach 1,245,600 units, a 20.5 percent decrease from December 2020. Comparing the same sales volume without adjusting for the number of selling days translates to a decrease of 23.3 percent from 2020.

The seasonally adjusted annualized rate for total new-vehicle sales is expected to be 13 million units, down 3.5 million units from 2020.

New-vehicle total sales in the fourth quarter are projected to reach 3,302,700 units, a 19.9 percent decrease from last year when adjusted for selling days.

New-vehicle total sales for 2021 are projected to reach 14,958,900 units, a 4.2 percent increase from 2020 when adjusted for selling days.

Record transaction prices are partly due to near record-low levels of discounting, according to J.D. Power. The average manufacturer incentive per vehicle is on pace to be a low for the month of December at $1,598, a decrease of $2,291 from a year ago. Expressed as a percentage of the average vehicle MSRP, incentives for December 2021 are trending toward a record-tying low of 3.5%, down nearly 5.5 percentage points from a year ago and the third consecutive month below 4.0%.

All told, consumers are on track to spend $50.6 billion on new vehicles this month, the second highest on record for the month of December and the fifth-highest amount for any month on record.

Dealers also are continuing to benefit from high transaction prices with total retailer profit per unit — inclusive of grosses and finance & insurance income — being on pace to reach a record $5,258, an increase of $3,277 from a year ago and a third consecutive month above $5,000.

The gains in per-unit profit more than offset the drop in sales volume, which will make December 2021 the most profitable month on record for retailers, says J.D. Power. Total aggregate retailer profit from new-vehicle sales is projected to be up 254 percent from December 2019, reaching $5.8 billion, the first time over $5 billion.

Record new-vehicle prices are being supported by exceptionally strong used-vehicle prices, as new-vehicle buyers benefit from more equity on their trade-in vehicles. The average trade-in equity for December is trending towards $10,199, an 83 percent increase of $4,623 from a year ago and the first time above $10,000. Also, interest rates are favorable when compared with a year ago. The average interest rate for loans in December is expected to decrease nine basis points to 4.05 percent. Even with lower interest rates and increased trade-in values, the average monthly finance payment is on pace to hit a record high of $680, up $78 from December 2020.

“Full year 2021 will still show a solid sales increase from 2020. The year-over-year sales declines experienced every month in the second half of 2021 were not enough to wash the record sales pace in the first half of the year” King says. “Also, pricing and profitability for 2021 will achieve record levels for full year results. Overall, despite the inventory-related disruption to sales volume, the industry is closing out the year with record-breaking financial results.

“Looking forward to 2022, retail sales will continue to be dictated by the number of vehicles shipped from plants and ports to dealerships,” King says. “Indications are that shipments will rise incrementally as the year goes on, allowing sales to rise from 2021 levels. However, pent-up consumer demand will keep inventory levels near historical lows. Therefore, 2022 is likely to be another year of record setting pricing and profitability.”

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