Automotive MMI: Automakers race ahead to strong Q1 2021 auto sales

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The Automotive Monthly Metals Index (MMI) rose by 2.5% for this month’s reading, as Q1 2021 auto sales surged.

April 2021 Automotive MMI chart

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US automotive sales

The first quarter is in the rear-view mirror.

General Motors reported Q1 retail sales jumped by 19%, as the automaker tallied 642,250 vehicle deliveries.

“Over the last year, our dealers, supply chain and manufacturing teams have gone above and beyond to satisfy customers as demand for GM products rose sharply,” said Steve Carlisle, GM executive vice president and president for North America. “The great teamwork continues. Sales are off to a strong start in 2021, we are operating our truck and full-size SUV plants at full capacity and we plan to recover lost car and crossover production in the second half of the year where possible.”

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. reported Q1 retail sales surged by 23.1% year over year. Total sales rose by 1%. Retail truck and SUV sales rose by 27.6% and 34.4%, respectively.

Ford also touted an uptick in electric vehicle sales, which jumped by 74.1% to 24,590 vehicles sold.

FCA US reported US sales jumped by 25%.

“In spite of what started out as a strong start last year, before COVID shocked us all, this quarter was a very strong rebound for retail sales year over year,” U.S. Head of Sales Jeff Kommor said. “The consumer demand for our brands and our products was extremely strong throughout the quarter.”

Similarly, Nissan reported its Q1 2021 auto sales surged by 10.8% year over year.

Meanwhile, March 2021 auto sales for Honda surged by 16.2% year over year. Honda saw its light truck sales jump by 132% in the month.

J.D. Power, LMC Automotive forecast nearly 71% sales bump

For the industry as a whole, J.D. Power and LMC Automotive late last month forecast US retail sales were set to jump by a whopping 70.7% in March on a year-over-year basis. (Of course, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last March depressed sales until demand returned in the summer.)

Meanwhile, the consultancies forecast sales to rise by 9.2% when compared with March 2019 figures.

“The strong Q1 sales performance is despite lean inventories and ongoing disruption to vehicle production,” said Thomas King, president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power. “At an aggregate industry level, Q1 inventories have been sufficient to meet consumer demand and delivered the opportunity for manufacturers and retailers to sell those vehicles with smaller discounts. Manufacturers who are experiencing supply chain challenges are prioritizing production of their most profitable and desirable products, minimizing the net effect.”

Semiconductor shortage

As we’ve covered here in recent weeks, automakers have struggled with the impact of the global semiconductor shortage.

General Motors, Ford and others have announced the idling of production in response to the shortage.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling for a wide-ranging review of US supply chains. Underlining the critical nature of the shortage, the order included semiconductors.

Intel announced plans to invest approximately $20 billion to build two new plants in Arizona in an effort to address semiconductor demand.

In the short term, however, the idling of automotive production could mean some limited amounts of steel supply could be freed up for other end users (as MetalMiner experts noted in a recent webinar).

Ford offered an update on the semiconductor crisis March 18.

“The global semiconductor shortage – combined with parts shortages created by the central U.S. winter storm in February – is prompting Ford to build F-150 trucks and Edge SUVs in North America without certain parts, including some electronic modules that contain scarce semiconductors,” the automaker said. “Ford will build and hold the vehicles for a number of weeks, then ship the vehicles to dealers once the modules are available and comprehensive quality checks are complete.”

In addition, Ford announced the cancelation of shifts over two days at its Louisville Assembly Plant.

Ford projected that if the semiconductor shortage continues through the first half of the year, it could cost the automaker between $1 billion and $2.5 billion.

Actual metals prices and trends

US HDG rose by 7.0% month over month to $1,578 per short ton as of April 1. Meanwhile, US shredded scrap steel jumped by 7.5% to $443 per short ton.

LME three-month copper fell 3.0% to $8,846 per metric ton.

The Korean 5052 aluminum coil premium rose by 2.9% to $3.55 per kilogram.

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