U.S. auto sales for General Motors declined 11.8% in 2020 but showed strong signs of a recovery in the fourth quarter, the company said Tuesday.
GM's domestic sales rose 4.8% during the last three months of last year compared with the same period in 2019. Retail sales for the entire auto industry returned to pre-pandemic levels in the fourth quarter, the company said. Commercial fleet customers also started to return toward the end of the year, it said.
GM's strong fourth quarter is likely a good sign for the auto industry overall. The majority of automakers are scheduled to report their U.S. sales on Tuesday. Domestic vehicle sales in 2020 were expected to be off by at least 15% compared with 2019.
Toyota reported its U.S. sales declined 11.2% last year compared with 2019, while Hyundai said its sales were off about 10%.
GM said it gained market share among retail and fleet customers in the fourth quarter and for the full year.
"GM outperformed the industry in the quarter and the full year by a significant margin because our manufacturing and supply chain teams and dealers helped keep people safe at work and our launches on track," Steve Carlisle, GM executive vice president and president, GM North America, said in a release.
The automaker's sales during the year, including the fourth quarter, were largely led by sales of its pickup truck and SUVs. Other notable increases included the Chevrolet Corvette, up 20.2%; all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV, up 26.4%, and Encore GX, a small crossover, topping the sales charts for Buick in its first year.
U.S. vehicle sales for GM were about 2.55 million vehicles in 2020 — the company's lowest performance since 2.5 million in 2011. The company said fleet sales declined about 33%, while retail sales were off only 6%.
GM's vehicle inventory levels remained significantly lower to end 2020 than the year earlier, off 33% to 410,875 units. The company's inventory levels, especially of pickup trucks, have been a concern following a two-month shutdown of its North American plants last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.
GM said it expects the broader U.S. economic recovery to continue in 2021, but the company declined to release a sales forecast for the year at this time.
"We look forward to an inflection point for the U.S. economy in spring," GM chief economist Elaine Buckberg said in a statement. "Widening vaccination rates and warmer weather should enable consumers and businesses to return to a more normal range of activities, lifting the job market, consumer sentiment and auto demand."