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California’s 2020 Vehicle Market Down, But Expected to Continue Improving

SACRAMENTO, CA – As the nation and California ease back into a much-needed vehicle sales rebound amid the global pandemic, new data shows that the low point for the year has likely been reached and the industry will begin a slow climb back up heading into 2021. 

As a result of the Coronavirus, vehicle sales, both new and used, took a tremendous hit during the early months of 2020. Despite the sharp, unprecedented sales decline not seen since the Great Recession and the beginning of a slow recovery, we can expect an increase going into 2021. According to the California Auto Outlook Second Quarter 2020, anticipated new vehicle sales are projected to reach 1.63 million in 2020, a 22 percent decline from 2019 and exceed 1.8 million next year.  

“This year is unprecedented in so many ways. For dealerships across California, it started with the abrupt changes in vehicle sales. The first four months of the year were some of the lowest points the industry has seen in quite some time, and we are just beginning to find our way out with the hope that the worst is behind us. We see the results of pent-up consumer demand but are trying to balance that with low inventory,” said California New Car Dealers Association Chairperson, Mark Normandin, owner of Normandin Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram FIAT. “As dealerships look to run their businesses with additional emphasis on health and safety for consumers and employees, we are ready and eager to offer the same value we did pre-COVID, but we are watching  whether consumer confidence returns to pre-COVID-19 levels. 2020 has been a long and trying road, but we will continue to do what it takes to move forward in a safe, healthy and prudent manner.”

New and Used Sales

While COVID-19 and its impacts on the economy has taken a significant toll on all vehicle sales, used vehicle sales are performing better than new vehicles, experiencing a drop of 14.5 percent compared to the new vehicle market at a 26.9 percent decline. For a national comparison, the U.S. market is down in new vehicle sales by 23.5 percent.

Passenger Cars vs. Light Trucks

Light trucks continue to outperform passenger cars, experiencing a 20.5 percent decline in the first half of the year versus a 35.6 percent drop for passenger cars. However, the light truck market share in California remains lower than that of the rest of nation, holding 62.5 percent market share in the Golden State compared to 75 percent market share nationwide.

Alternative Powertrains

The electric and hybrid vehicle market continues to grow, showing a very slight increase from the first half of 2019, from 13.2 percent to 13.4 percent for the first half of 2020.

Model and Brand Rankings

During the second quarter of 2020, the Honda Civic regained its top spot as California’s best seller in the new vehicle market, with Toyota, Honda, and Ford as the top brand leaders in the state. Toyota also holds the number one spot for the best-selling non-luxury SUV brand and the best-selling brand in six-year-old or newer used vehicle market, with a 13 percent market share.

Regional Variances

Regional variances between Northern California and Southern California are trending with the overall state and national declines, with Northern California experiencing a slightly higher incidence of decline. The north saw a decline of 31.6 percent in passenger car sales and 16.5 percent decline in light truck sales with the southern portion of the state doing only slightly better with a decline in passenger car sales of 29.5 percent and a decline in light truck sales of 15.7 percent.

The California Auto Outlook Second Quarter 2020 Market Report provides comprehensive information on the state’s new vehicle market. The report includes annual trends, two-year perspective, segment watch, including the top five models in each segment, brand scoreboards, regional comparisons and more. The complete report can be accessed on CNCDA’s website at:


California Auto Outlook, is produced for CNCDA by Auto Outlook, Inc., an independent research company specializing in the analysis of statewide and regional automotive markets. When reporting these auto industry trends please acknowledge the Data Source: Experian.


For more than 95 years, CNCDA has represented the interests of California’s franchised new car dealers. CNCDA members are primarily engaged in the retail sale and lease of new and used motor vehicles, but also provide customers with automotive products, parts, service and repair.  Our members sold more than 2 million new cars and trucks in 2019 and employed more than 140,000 Californians, significantly contributing to our state’s economy.  As the nation’s largest state association of franchised new car and truck dealers—with more than 1,100 members—CNCDA serves its members by providing legal compliance and legislative, regulatory and legal advocacy. 

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