2020 Year in Review: COVID-19, CUVs and More

Published: March 24, 2021 by Marty Miller

With 2020 officially in the rearview mirror, it’s unbelievable to think about all that occurred. Most notable was COVID-19, and its dramatic impact on multiple areas of the industry—from production shutdowns to an overall reduction in registrations. But among those changes, some other trends emerged, driven by a continued shift in consumer preferences.

Let’s take a closer look at how the industry fared during the year.

COVID-19’s impact on new registrations

The coronavirus pandemic hit the industry hard in the second quarter of the year, with light duty new vehicle registrations dropping to 0.76 million in April, an 11-year low. When that occurred, there were numerous conversations about what the recovery would look like.

The industry rebounded fairly quickly, in the grand scheme of things. Light duty new registrations reached 1.35 million in August, a more expected volume. However, we continued to see the impacts of COVID-19 as the year progressed, with December closing out at a weaker rate of 1.3 million new registrations, compared to last year when it was 1.42 million.

Overall, the decline in registrations was felt most dramatically in new vehicles, which saw a 15.5% decline from 2019 to 2020, from 16.8 million to 14.2 million. Used vehicles also saw a dip, but about half the size. There were 39.3 million used vehicle registrations in 2020, down 7.5% from 2019, which saw 42.5 million used vehicle registrations.

This will be an important trend to pay attention to as we navigate 2021.

Toyota becomes light-duty leader

One of the other trends that is worth paying attention to are new vehicle registrations by brand. As of the fourth quarter of 2020, Toyota became the light-duty leader, comprising 12.73% of new vehicle registrations, surpassing Ford, which made up 12.66% of new vehicles registered in all of 2020. Both brands saw minor shifts in their market share, as Ford had been the leader in 2019 with 12.92% of new vehicles registered and Toyota at a close second at 12.53% in the same time frame.

While those two brands remain close in percentage, there are larger gaps between Chevrolet (11.85%), Honda (8.38%) and Nissan (5.74%), which round out the top five brands of new vehicles registered in 2020.

CUVs grow in popularity within VIO

For years, we’ve seen consumers gravitate toward crossover utility vehicles, or CUVs, which often feature more space than sedans, and have better gas mileage than a traditional SUV. And the trend continued in 2020.

CUVs grew 1.2% year-over-year, making up 19.4% of all vehicles in operation compared to 18.2% in 2019. Pick-up trucks maintained their lead, growing from 20.2% in 2019 to 20.4% in 2020. Mid-range cars made up 20.2% of vehicles in operation, holding the second spot even with a .7% decrease year-over-year. Additionally, SUV’s saw growth, increasing from 12.6% last year to 13.3% this year.

While there were moments in 2020 that felt like the industry had come to a standstill, the data shows that wasn’t necessarily the case. COVID-19 certainly caused some disruption, but the industry began to recover. It will be important to stay close to the data to see if any new trends emerge in 2021. Leveraging data will enable the industry to respond strategically, and ensure the recovery continues.

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