It could be a blip, a fluke, but it could also become the norm as consumer buying habits struggle to return to something approaching normal. Via data from J.D. Power, we can see that U.S. auto sales failed to make any headway in the week ending May 17th, ending a six-week climb out the lockdown sales pit.

Finding a guilty party on which to pin the result is proving difficult.

“Leveling of sales performance was exhibited across markets,” J.D. Power noted in its weekly roundup of U.S. auto sales, adding that the cause of the leveling off in consumer activity “varied.”

A linear return to normal was probably too much to ask for.

Key markets fluctuated in comparison to pre-virus forecasts. While New York continued to claw its way back to parity (rising to 42 percent below forecast), joined by Los Angeles (rising to 20 percent below the predicted norm for the week), Dallas and Detroit fell. The result of threadbare pickup inventory? That could account for some of it, as full-size trucks fell from near-parity to 7 percent below forecast last week, but other segments flattened out, too.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro grey - Image: Toyota

Midsize pickup sales fell 7 percent below pre-virus forecasts despite sailing above the prediction the week before. Other popular segments like midsize and small SUVs made no gains for the week. Compact cars, which have thus far suffered the greatest volume loss as a result of the pandemic, improved over forecast by 1 percent. It’s still at the back of the pack among the top five automotive segments (down 43 percent compared to the projected normal).

Taking all segments into account, retail volume fell 27 percent short of pre-virus expectations last week. That’s 69,000 units lost, and a worse showing than the week before, when the industry was down 24 percent, with 55,000 units lost.

The only good news for the industry was reserved for makers of premium automobiles. Some premium segments, such as compact SUVs and compact cars, continued to rise, albeit modestly. Compact premium SUVs were down just 24 percent from pre-virus forecast — a much healthier position than the 71 percent drop seen at the height of the lockdown. Premium compact cars were down 36 percent, a slight improvement from the previous week’s 38 percent. Midsize SUVs were about flat.

All told, the continued strengthening of the premium market, when combined with a stagnant mainstream market, pushed premium market share up a point (to 13 percent).

[Image: Lexus]

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