The global microchip shortage that crimped new-vehicle output last year will continue to pinch volumes in 2022. Even as production schedules improve, automotive inventory is expected to remain tight for much of the coming year after plunging in 2021 to the lowest level since the Great Recession.
U.S. light-vehicle sales are expected to rise slightly in 2022 but remain well below pre-pandemic levels. Once inventory and production normalize, forecasters expect pent-up demand to propel the industry for the next few years.
"It's not greatly different than we saw out of the Great Recession and how many years that carried us," Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power, told Automotive News. "I think [demand] is stronger by several magnitudes than what we saw even back in 2010 through '13."
Analysts with IHS Markit expect U.S. sales will rise to nearly 15.5 million vehicles in 2022, while Edmunds estimates a more modest 15.2 million. That compares with a projected total of about 15 million in 2021. Most automakers plan to report final results for last year during the first week of January.
With most vehicles selling as they arrive at the dealership, if not before, the actual number will depend largely on how many vehicles automakers can build.
"Throughout most of '22, we do expect to see sort of a one-in, one-out-type basis," Jominy said. "Anything produced in at least the first three quarters is going to go directly to customers, and that will set the sales pace."
In mid-December, dealer Will Churchill had sold out of Cadillacs at his store in Fort Worth, Texas. He expected more vehicles to arrive before the end of the month, but most of them were already reserved for customers. Every Escalade headed to the dealership over the next 90 days was spoken for, he said.
"Right now, we are in a situation where we are selling everything the manufacturer will give us," said Churchill, an owner of Frank Kent Motor Co. "We hope to have a greater volume in 2022 than 2021 strictly because we should get more cars."
Charlie Gilchrist, president of Gilchrist Automotive in Texas, a large market, expects a 10 percent bump in new-vehicle sales this year for his 11-store group. In the weeks before Christmas, Gilchrist was anxiously awaiting deliveries to supplement the 65 vehicles he had on the ground at his largest Ford store, Southwest Ford.
He had been expecting to sell 200 in December, which was already 30 vehicles fewer than a year earlier.
"If those don't hit, then obviously we're not going to make those numbers," he said in mid-December. "I think everybody's in the same boat right now. With the demand as it is, you can sell the vehicles as soon as you can get them."