Mid-Year Economic Indicators Guide 2022 Planning

The midway point for 2021 is in the rearview mirror and many dealership owners and managers are knee-deep in planning for 2022. Now is the perfect time for a quick review of the mid-year economic indicators. While new model retail sales are trending up and used vehicle prices are hitting record highs, there are some broader market trends which should be considered.

Supply chain issues impact sales forecast

According to NADA, new light-vehicle sales are expected to reach 15.5 million units for 2021, representing a 7.2 percent year-over-year increase.  Fitch Ratings expects vehicle sales to return to 2019 levels in 2022/2023. However, IHS Markit and Wards Intelligence do not expect the U.S. to see 17 million light-vehicle registrations annually until 2025. This market skepticism is fueled by supply chain issues and a persistent semiconductor shortage. General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Ford have all felt the impact on production, and analysts believe the semiconductor chip shortage will reduce new vehicle production by 1.28 million.

While dealers have experienced the vehicle shortages first hand, one bright spot is the strong trend toward online sales which were bolstered during the 2020 shutdown. Consumers increasingly became more comfortable completing more of the vehicle purchase process online. This has allowed dealers to stay in the game even with the persistent production issues as the online sales model is perfect for a vehicle order rather than immediate delivery.


The Current Climate for Regulatory Compliance

The retail automotive market has found itself in an interesting situation. On one hand, retail sales are rebounding nicely, with strong price pressure coupled with continued low interest rates. On the other hand, all signs are pointing to an increased environment for regulatory scrutiny from an  hyper-focused Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and various local officials.

New leadership within the CFPB has signaled through their rulemaking agenda that automotive lending practices will garner increased scrutiny. New legislative bodies within state and local governments in many areas have followed suit to respond to discriminatory lending practices and perceived predatory consumer behavior.

Couple this renewed regulatory interest and sales environment, with a host of new fraud and cybersecurity schemes that can trip up any company, no matter how big, and the situation gets even more convoluted.

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Market indicators are certainly trending up these days for retail automotive dealers. According to J.D. Power and LMC Automotive, new-vehicle retail sales for May 2021 are expected to be the highest ever recorded for the month of May. Total new-vehicle sales for May 2021, including retail and non-retail transactions, are projected to reach 1,555,600 units, a 39.6% increase from May 2020. The seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) for total new-vehicle sales is expected to be 16.7 million units, up 4.7 million units from 2020.

Rising costs do not seem to be impacting consumers yet. While labor and inflationary concerns are capturing headlines and many people are just beginning to emerge from their pandemic bunkers, consumers are on track to spend $53.1 billion on new vehicles in May, the highest on record for any month. Total retailer profit per unit, inclusive of grosses and finance & insurance income, are on pace to reach an all-time high of $3,245, an increase of $1,678 from a year ago and the first time above $3,000 on record. Coupled with the strong retail sales pace, total aggregate retailer profits from new-vehicle sales will be $4.5 billion, the highest ever for the month of May and up an astounding 162% from May 2019.

The used vehicle market is also showing record numbers, with average trade-in values rising to $6,201, an increase of $3,229 (up 108.7 percent) from a year ago. According to the Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index, April delivered three straight months of records as wholesale car prices came in at 194.0, which beat year-ago figures by 54.3 percent and was nearly a 15-point jump from the prior record set a month before (179.2). The value for pick-up trucks alone jumped 77.9 percent!