Cox Automotive expects a relatively modest rebound in new, light-vehicle sales this year, to about 16 million cars and trucks, up 6.6% from 14.9 million in 2021 but still below pre-COVID-19 sales of about 17.1 million in 2019.
“We do expect growth in sales, but it is very much a supply-constrained story, especially in the first half of the year” in 2022, Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Cox Automotive, says during a Jan. 7 webinar.
The growth in sales in 2022 depends on higher production, which depends in turn on better access to computer chips and straightening out other supply-chain constraints, he says. Cox Automotive also expects sustained high consumer demand relative to supply.
The new-vehicle market “hit a wall in terms of supply” in June 2021, and by August, the supply situation led to a string of lower monthly sales compared with 2020, Smoke says. For all of 2021, U.S. light-vehicle sales were up 3.1%, according to Wards Intelligence.
September 2021 “appears to have been the bottom in the new-vehicle sales decline,” he says, but monthly sales are still below the year-ago month. In December 2021, U.S. light-vehicle sales were 1.2 million, down 24.6% vs. December 2020.
New-vehicle inventory was down 72% in December vs. the end of 2019, and it’s going to take a long time to recover, Smoke says.
With variants such as omicron spreading, COVID-19 is still the biggest risk factor to both the U.S. economy and the 2022 forecast, he says: “We have to keep COVID on the radar.”