The Key Auto Mall dealership in Moline, Illinois.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Fiat Chrysler and General Motor auto sales fell in the third quarter, but both automakers saw demand spike significantly from the second quarter as the pandemic devastated the industry.
Fiat Chrysler sales were down 10% year-over-year, but rose 38% from the second to the third quarter. From July to September, 140,265 more vehicles were sold than in the previous three months. GM announced that third-quarter sales were down 9.9% year over year, but improved sequentially every month, showing continued signs of recovery. Both automakers exceeded most of the sales expectations of industry analysts.
Industry forecasters predict domestic auto sales in the US will improve significantly from Q2, but will lag between 11% and 13% from Q3 2019.
Revenue in the second quarter was down more than 30% year-over-year as the coronavirus caused consumers to stay home and dealerships and factories closed. A major driver of US auto sales rebounding faster than expected is retail sales or sales to individual consumers.
"While the economy has recovered significantly in the third quarter, the auto sales in the retail trade were even more resilient," said GM chief economist Elaine Buckberg in a press release. "The extremely low auto loan interest rates have boosted retail auto sales. Even more strength comes from pandemic demand."
GM said its retail sales or those to consumers were nearly unchanged from the third quarter of 2019. The company declined to provide specific details about these sales as well as its vehicle inventory, including critically low shipments of its Chevrolet and GMC pickups.
Led by the gains of its Palisade SUV, Hyundai Motor saw only a 1.3% decrease in the third quarter compared to the same period last year. That includes a 5.5% increase in September, according to the South Korean automaker.
"The market has definitely returned a lot faster than expected," Randy Parker, vice president of sales at Hyundai Motor America, told CNBC in a telephone interview. "The palisade is a very hot product. I can't get enough right now. Our dealers demand more."
Fiat Chrysler, GM and Hyundai were among the first automakers to report third-quarter sales. Most automakers are expected to release their results on Thursday.
Others reporting third quarter sales include: