I don’t have to tell you that 2020 was a rough year; you lived it, so you know what went on and how we all fared. And yet, despite the ups and tremendous downs of 2020, there was some good news for the auto industry: a lot of companies managed to end the year in pretty decent shape. General Motors (GM), in fact, had tremendous auto sales figures for the last quarter of 2020 and not only ended their year strong but had a better fourth-quarter in many ways than they’ve had in a long time.
Looking at the auto sales figures from GM for last year reveals some interesting stuff, and so I thought it’d be fun to look at how 2020 went for them. I’ll take a look at not only GM overall, which includes GMC, Chevrolet, and more, but specifically at Chevy to see what their sales numbers looked like. I can tell you right now that the numbers really show the story of what 2020 was like for the industry overall. So, let’s take a look.
How 2020 Started for Chevy
For auto sales here in the US, things started pretty much as expected for GM and Chevy in particular. Before I get into any specific details, I should point out that GM provides this information on a quarterly basis, rather than for each individual month. This means I’ll be talking about quarters here, rather than each month, because it’s the most precise way to look at this information from the manufacturer.
So, GM’s first quarter was off to a decent start, pretty much as expected, but then the decline due to COVID-19 began in March. That’s when dealerships started closing, plants shut down manufacturing, and the initial worries about financial problems and income really got started. Since the information is only provided for the quarter, we can’t just look specifically at March, but it’s still reflected when you look at the three months together.
For example, based on information from GM about Chevy’s auto sales, Chevy vehicle deliveries for the first quarter of 2020 totaled 435,422. By comparison, in 2019, Chevy had first-quarter deliveries of 452,401 – that’s a fairly small difference and shows that things were on track for a normal year up until March. Some vehicles were doing better than the previous year, like the Bolt EV and Silverado trucks, while others were doing worse, like the Camaro and Colorado (as much as 36% for the Colorado, which raises questions about the future of the model).
A Rough Second Quarter
This is where things really tanked for the auto industry last year, and at this point, there were a lot of people worried that 2020 would be an absolutely disastrous year for the industry. GM might not have been the hardest hit of any manufacturer, but they were certainly among the ones that took the biggest losses for the quarter. Remember, this time period includes April, May, and June – during this time, a lot of dealerships were closed for at least a few weeks, if not a month or more, and production even stopped for part of it.
Looking at auto sales numbers from GM, during the second quarter of 2020, Chevy delivered just 331,917 vehicles. By comparison, in the second quarter of 2019, Chevy delivered 499,847 vehicles. Just to make this clear: the numbers went from nearly 500k to less than 332k! Their deliveries were down by more than 33%, and in some cases, the change really looked catastrophic.
For example, deliveries of the Chevy Colorado were down 37% in the second quarter, the Malibu figures crashed by nearly 60%, and the popular Chevy Suburban was down more than 61% – though some of that was likely due to an updated model on the horizon. It was disastrous. And yet, as dealerships began to reopen and manufacturing plants started functioning again, the numbers began to head in the right direction for Chevy.
Picking Up in the Summer
There wasn’t a miraculous recovery in the third quarter of 2020 for GM and its auto sales figures, but things got better – or at least less horrible. This period covers July, August, and September, and by this point, there was a bit more certainty about what was going on. While a lot of people still struggled, many people found a new sense of normalcy about how to deal with changes to their jobs and working conditions. Moreover, by this point, a lot of people had canceled summer vacations and trips and had extra money to invest in a new vehicle.
When we look at auto sales numbers from GM for the third quarter of 2020, we can see that Chevy delivered 450,317 vehicles; this is about 120k more than in the second quarter! By comparison, in the third quarter of 2019, Chevy delivered 507,273 vehicles. So, you can see that the numbers were still down year-to-year, but the decrease was only about 11% rather than the 33% of the previous quarter. Like I said: not amazing, but less horrible.
Some vehicles still underwhelmed: the Colorado was down about 14% in delivered vehicles, while the Suburban was down almost 40%, and the Chevy Traverse was down by about 23%. On the other hand, other vehicles did well and actually performed better than in the previous year. The Silverado medium-duty commercial trucks were up by 20%, while the Silverado HD models were up by 9%, and the Corvette’s delivery numbers boomed 33% higher than the previous year.
A Strong Finish to the Year
Even though the third quarter was better than some had feared just a few months prior, the fourth quarter is really where GM and Chevy caught up on the year. In the fourth quarter of 2020, Chevy delivered 522,136 vehicles, while in the fourth quarter of 2019, they had delivered 499,404 vehicles. That’s right: in the year of COVID-19, Chevy managed an increase in delivered vehicles of almost 5% in its final quarter!
There were some huge gains in this quarter: the Corvette boosted up more than 157%, Silverado medium-duty work trucks were up more than 35%, and Chevy delivered 39% more Silverado HD models. Deliveries of the Chevy Suburban were up more than 32% in the fourth quarter, and the Tahoe was up 36% (both certainly helped by redesigned 2021 models making their way to dealers), while the Chevy Traverse jumped up 23% compared to the previous year.
In the end, Chevy had an amazing fourth quarter for the year; it was the best fourth quarter for GM overall since 2007. The Chevy Silverado had huge gains, and there were record delivery numbers for the GMC Sierra, which made GM the overall full-size truck sales leader for the year. Further, 70% of full-size SUVs sold in the fourth quarter of 2020 were either a Chevy Tahoe, Chevy Suburban, or GMC Yukon.
What This Means Going Forward
In the end, GM started 2021 in great shape, and they expect to have an excellent year as demand remains strong for the recently updated Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, along with an all-new Cadillac Escalade. It’s interesting to see how badly things started to go last year and how well GM managed to pull itself out of the slide and end on an incredibly strong note. Considering how rough things got, the year-to-year numbers for the second quarter of 2021 are sure to be entertaining.