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Improvements Continue in California’s New Vehicle Market, Expected to Approach 1.8 Million in 2021

SACRAMENTO, CA – 2021 is already showing signs of improvement for California’s vehicle market. Despite indications that recovery has begun, consumers are still facing financial challenges and uncertainties during the global pandemic. However, the demand for vehicles is making a comeback and we expect California’s new and used vehicle market to continue to rebound this year. 

As a result of the Coronavirus, vehicle sales, both new and used, took a tremendous hit during the early months of 2020. Even with promising days ahead for the industry, California vehicle sales fell 21.7 percent in 2020, compared to U.S. vehicle sales which saw a 14.4 percent decline overall. Despite this drastic decline, the market was still 58 percent higher than the lowest point in 2009 during the Great Recession. According to the California Auto Outlook Fourth Quarter 2020, anticipated new vehicle sales are projected to increase by about 8 percent and approach 1.8 million in 2021.  

“The welcome trend of increased consumer demand is a great sign of recovery for the vehicle market. 2020 was a tough year for everyone but we remain optimistic that better days are ahead. However, there are still many uncertainties with the future of the pandemic, consumer confidence, unemployment, and available inventory so with that optimism also comes a healthy dose of realism,” said California New Car Dealers Association Chairperson, Mark Normandin, owner of Normandin Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram FIAT. “As the demand increases and the trend holds steady for larger, family friendly vehicles, despite the pandemic, I remain confident in the great products and valuable services we continue to offer consumers to fit their unique requirements. We will weather this storm and come out of this stronger, and more ready and eager to serve the transportation needs of nearly 40 million Californians, while keeping our customers and employees safe and healthy.”

New and Used Sales

Regardless of COVID-19 and its impacts on the economy, used vehicle sales continue to perform better than new vehicles sales. Used vehicle sales experienced an 8.5 percent decline from 2019 to 2020 compared to a 21.7 percent decline for new vehicle sales in the same timeframe. For a national comparison, U.S. new vehicle sales dropped 14.4 percent. With the used vehicle market expected to remain strong for a majority of 2021, we can expect the outperformance trend to continue.  

Segment Market Share

Larger, more family-friendly vehicles continue to be in high demand by consumers, with non-luxury SUV’s leading the 2020 segment market share in California, making up 33 percent of sales, an increase of 3 percent from 2019. Pickups and vans made up 18 percent of the market, an increase of 1 percent from the previous year and small cars falling 2 percent from 2019, from 18 percent to 16 percent.  

Alternative Powertrains

The electric and hybrid vehicle market continued to show growth in 2020, with new hybrid vehicle sales making up 6.9 percent of the market, new electric vehicle sales ended the year at 6.2 percent, and plug-in hybrid vehicles making up 1.9 percent of the market. The market share for these vehicles increased nearly 2 percentage points from 2019, from 13.2 percent to 15 percent through the fourth quarter of 2020.

Model and Brand Rankings

During the fourth quarter of 2020, the Honda Civic held on to its top spot as California’s best-selling model in the new vehicle market. The Toyota RAV4 came in as a close second to the Civic and held on to the number one spot for the best-selling compact SUV with nearly 24 percent of the market segment, and the best-selling brand in six-year-old or newer used vehicle market, with more than 13 percent market share.

Regional Variances

While regional variances between Northern California and Southern California continue to show similarities, Southern California declines remain less severe, particularly in the San Diego region where sales were down less than 14 percent overall in 2020. The San Francisco Bay Area saw an overall decline of nearly 24 percent and LA and Orange Counties nearly 20 percent. Northern California year over year sales were down 17.8 percent and Southern California sales were down 16.3 percent.

The California Auto Outlook Fourth 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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