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04/01/2021

Ram has once again overtaken Silverado to claim the No. 2 spot in the Truck Wars as Stellantis' U.S. sales rebounded in the first quarter compared with this time last year during the initial sales hit from COVID-19.

Stellantis reported a 5% increase in total U.S. sales, including a 25% increase in retail results, for the first three months of 2021 compared with the same period a year ago. The company said it sold a total of 469,651 vehicles in the United States compared with 446,768 during the first quarter of 2020.

Those numbers of course are tempered by the 10% drop in sales the company experienced in the first quarter of 2020 as buyers began to react to coronavirus-related restrictions.

“In spite of what started out as a strong start last year, before COVID shocked us all, this quarter was a very strong rebound for retail sales year over year,” U.S. Head of Sales Jeff Kommor said in a news release. “The consumer demand for our brands and our products was extremely strong throughout the quarter.”

Most brands were up for the quarter but not all. Jeep rose 8%; Ram, 16%; Chrysler, 32%; and Alfa Romeo, 25%. Dodge and Fiat were both down 28%. The company did not release quarterly numbers for Maserati.

Some brands and models had a particularly bright quarter. First-quarter retail sales of the Chrysler Pacifica minivan increased 57% compared with the first quarter of 2020, and strong demand for trucks pushed Ram to its best-ever monthly retail sales in March and to a 28% retail sales increase for the quarter, the company said. That bodes well for the bottom line because truck sales, which represent big profits, are particularly important for the Detroit Three.

For the quarter, Ram sold 148,836 pickups, up 16%, compared with the Chevrolet Silverado, at 126,591, down 12.5%. Ford's F-Series remained in front at 203,797, up 9%.

The Jeep Wrangler also recorded its best-ever first-quarter retail sales, the company said.

Things were not rosy for the Fiat brand, which continued its drive toward irrelevance in the U.S. market by selling only 815 total vehicles in the quarter.

The sales climate remains challenged, however, as the coronavirus pandemic and the global chip shortage affect consumers and auto inventories.

The numbers represent the first full quarter of sales for Stellantis since it was formed in January from the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Peugeot-maker PSA Group. The numbers, however, are likely to showcase a continuation of trends seen before the merger rather than highlight any new direction.

It will take time before any meaningful changes to the vehicle lineup related to the merger show up.

Results in coming quarters will, however, include a number of new vehicles, including the large, high-end 2022 Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer SUVs. Those vehicles, built at Warren Truck Assembly, will test how willing Jeep customers will be to open their wallets wide, with SUVs ranging in price from around $58,000 to more than $111,000.

But industry headwinds will also be at play. Stellantis, like other automakers, has struggled to manage the semiconductor shortage. By the end of March, Stellantis was forced to shut down production at five of its plants, including Warren Truck, although that was planned to last only a few weeks. The company has so far maintained production at several of its high-volume plants producing profitable Jeep SUVs and new-version Ram 1500 pickups, but with the shortage expected to continue for some time, it's not clear whether those might not also be affected at some point.

Overall, the first quarter results follow a generally rough 2020 for the former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. In the company's final U.S. sales results release in January as a standalone company, it reported an 8% drop for the fourth quarter with 499,431 vehicles sold compared with the same period in 2019. The full year showed a 17% decline from 2019, with 1.8 million vehicles sold in the United States in 2020.


 
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