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Auto shows delayed, sales down, supply chain concern: Coronavirus takes toll on auto industry

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — The coronavirus is hitting automakers hard, canceling auto shows and planned product introduction, disrupting supply chains, hammering stocks and crushing sales in China, the world's largest auto market.

On Tuesday, organizers of the New York International Auto Show postponed the April rite to August on deepening concerns of coronavirus in the metro area, just one day after Monday's stock market plunge delivered a beating to auto stocks.

The 2020 Hyundai Venue is shown at the New York Auto Show.

Behind it all: automakers are continuing to wrestle with supply chain disruption caused by coronavirus that shut down factories in China. They're also facing the prospect that demand for new vehicles virtually disappeared in China and could be imperiled in the United States depending on the severity of the outbreak here at home.

Sales in China dropped nearly 80% year over year in February, according to the China Passenger Car Association. The precipitous sales decline — Chinese consumers bought 1.6 million fewer vehicles in February than a year earlier — intensifies the pressure automakers already feel in China, whose pre-coronavirus market had been slipping after years of blistering growth. 

"I am much less concerned about supply chain disruptions than I am about the demand side," said Michael Dunne, CEO of ZoZo Go LLC, a Hong Kong-based automotive consultancy. "That’s like someone took a sledge hammer to the market and just wiped it out. The magnitude is discounted when we hear it happened in Asia or China. If that happened in Canada, we would be out of our minds."

Dunne predicts sales in China for March could run another 1 million vehicles behind last year's pace. He expected a flat year of sales in China in 2020, but now he expects to see annual vehicle sales drop by 10%. In 2019, sales dropped 8%.

Detroit automakers don't release their quarterly sales until next month, but analysts at Cox Automotive Inc. estimate that U.S. auto sales rose 8% in February, ahead of the firm's 6% increase estimate. In reviewing loan applications from dealers across the U.S. last week, there was a stable new-vehicle market and a 30% jump in used-vehicle sales — typical when tax refunds start arriving, according to Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Cox.

Analysts at Cox are continuing to watch what happens with sales in March, generally one of the top three sales months for automakers in the rich U.S. market.

"We have seen no effect so far," said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at AutoTrader, a Cox Automotive company. "We really think March will be a key month to watch."

In January, Cox's best-case scenario envisioned U.S. sales coming in at 16.6 million this year. But if there's a severe virus outbreak in the U.S., they expect sales could decline to 16 million sales for the year.

Rescheduling the New York International Auto Show comes after state officials on Tuesday announced a shutdown of several schools and houses of worship for two weeks in New York City suburbs. And Gov. Andrew Cuomo dispatched the National Guard to help with what appears to be the nation’s biggest cluster of coronavirus cases.

The show, previously set to take place April 10-19 at the Javits Convention Center in New York, will now take place Aug. 28 – Sept. 6, 2020. The rescheduling comes after the Geneva Motor Show was canceled and Beijing's was postponed because of the virus.

“We are taking this extraordinary step to help protect our attendees, exhibitors and all participants from the coronavirus,” Mark Schienberg, president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, said in a statement. The organization owns and operates the New York Auto Show. 

The North American International Auto Show taking place for the first time in June this year in Detroit is still on, for now.

"We understand this must have been a difficult decision for the organizers of the New York show," NAIAS Executive Director Rod Alberts said in a statement. "Every major event must make the best decision for their own show, partners and attendees. We are three months away from hosting the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and we are continuing to move forward with all of our partners to produce a great event."

Last week, The Detroit News reported that General Motors Co. canceled all upcoming media product programs through April, including the April 2 world premiere of Cadillac's first electric SUV in Los Angeles, the Lyriq.

While there's been no known impact on U.S. production, analysts have said the supply chain disruption is likely to cause at least some interruption of production here.

"There’s no question," Dunne said. "There will not be a monumental wipe out. Teams are on this and they are very good at what they do. They are wrestling now with how to make sure production lines in the U.S. are not disrupted — whatever it takes."


The Associated Press contributed