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Cox Automotive March Forecast: U.S. Auto Sales Pick Up Pace Heading Into Spring


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Article Highlights

  1. March sales pace is forecast to reach nearly 16.5 million, up from last month’s 15.7 million pace and up dramatically from March 2020’s COVID-19-inflicted 11.4 million level.
  2. March sales volume is expected to rise nearly 50% from last year and finish near 1.48 million units.
  3. First-quarter U.S. auto sales are forecast to show an 8.7% increase over Q1 2020.

ATLANTA, March 26, 2021 – March U.S. auto sales, when reported next week, will show strong growth over February’s pace and a significant increase over last year’s pandemic hit numbers. The seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of sales this month is forecast by Cox Automotive to hit 16.5 million, up from February’s 15.7 million pace and well above last March’s dismal 11.4 million level. 

Sales volume is forecast to increase nearly 50% over last March and reach 1.48 million units. While sales in the first quarter have been healthy, they remain below pre-pandemic levels. Total sales in Q1 2021, forecast at 3.77 million units, will be up 8.7% versus Q1 2020 but down 4.9% from Q1 2019 when 3.97 million sales were reported.

The sales recovery has been choppy since September. The SAAR has bounced around between the upper-15 to mid-16 million levels over the past six months. A return to the higher end is expected in March. The sales pace should improve this month after being hampered by winter storms that disrupted much of the country in February. With the deep freeze impacting markets as far south as Houston and disrupting millions of lives and businesses for days, many sales were likely delayed into early March. Also, the distribution of stimulus checks is well underway, and we’ve already noticed upward movement in our daily sales tracking numbers as a result. 

“Inventory levels are tight right now, though, and this could hinder the market in coming months,” said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist, Cox Automotive. “Supply chain disruptions that continue to plague the industry are adding to the short supply situation. Although lean inventories have not had much impact on buyers in the first quarter, that will likely change as we move into Q2. The production disruptions happening now will turn into even lower inventory in the months ahead.”

March 2021 Sales Forecast Highlights
  • In March, new light-vehicle sales are forecast to increase by 490,000 units, or nearly 50%, compared to March 2020. When compared to last month, sales are expected to rise nearly 300,000 units, or 25.4%. 
  • The SAAR in March 2021 is estimated to be 16.5 million, above last year’s 11.4 million level and an increase from last month’s 15.7 million pace. There are 26 selling days this month, one more than last year and two more than February, so additional time will also help lift sales.
  • Year-over-year comparisons will become less relevant in the months ahead as large year-over-year increases are reported. Compared to March 2019, sales volume this month is forecast to be down by more than 8%. March 2019 had one additional selling day than March 2021.
  • First-quarter sales are forecast to be up 8.7% compared to Q1 2020 but down 4.9% versus Q1 2019.
March 2021 Forecast 

All percentages are based on raw volume, not daily selling rate.

Cox Automotive Q1 2021 U.S. Auto Sales Webcast

The Cox Automotive Industry Insights team will host a webcast on Monday, March 29, 2021, at 11 a.m. EDT. During the event, the team will discuss key economic indicators driving the auto market, review the 2021 forecasts, and offer analysis of new- and used-vehicle sales for March and the first quarter. The presentation will be followed by a Q&A session. RSVP to attend.

Media Contacts:
Mark Schirmer
734 883 6346

Dara Hailes
470 658 0656

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