The new GM logo is seen on the facade of the General Motors headquarters in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., March 16, 2021.
The new GM logo is seen on the facade of the General Motors headquarters in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., March 16, 2021. Reuters / Rebecca Cook

U.S. automakers on Friday reported a slump in first-quarter U.S. sales as the industry-wide inventory crunch caused by disruptions to supply chains and chip shortages hit retail sales.

Major automakers in the United States including Japan's Toyota Motor Corp and General Motors Co, reported lower overall sales for the quarter compared to a year ago. Sales of electric and hybrid vehicles jumped as prices for gasoline soared to nominal records.

GM forecast that overall first quarter car and light truck sales would fall to a 14.1 million annualized pace from 16.8 million a year ago.

Consumer interest in electric vehicles is not just a United States trend. In France, sales of electric and hybrid vehicles took 40% of the market in the first quarter, capturing the lead over conventional gasoline models for the first time.

Still, sales of some large SUVs and trucks held up. GM reported sales of its largest and most expensive SUVs, the Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade, rose during the quarter compared to a year ago.

Toyota, which in 2021 upstaged GM's decades-old position as the top-selling automaker in the United States, outsold the company in the first quarter on increased demand for its Lexus hybrid and electric vehicles.

Jack Hollis, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota Motor North America, said he does not expect a major, long-term shift in the U.S. vehicle market - where about three-quarters of new vehicles sold are trucks and SUVs.

"I don't see that fluctuating by more than 1 or 2 percentage points for a while," he said.

South Korea's Hyundai Motor, Kia America, Mazda all posted a drop in their overall U.S. quarterly auto sales. However, Hyundai said its first-quarter retail sales to individual consumers rose 1.4% from a year ago to a record for January to March.

Electric and hybrid cars combined for 16% of Hyundai's U.S. sales during the first quarter.

"If gas prices remain high, that's going to continue to push consumers toward green technology," said Randy Parker, Hyundai's senior vice president for U.S. sales.

Detroit-based GM said quarterly sales fell 20.1% to 512,846 vehicles, sending its shares down 2.5% at $42.6 in the afternoon trade. U.S.-listed shares of Toyota were down about 0.5% at $179.41.

GM said improved semiconductor supplies helped production in the quarter, but it expects inventory to remain relatively low throughout the year due to high demand. Automakers are encouraged by the strong U.S. job market.

The company's chief economist said in a statement that "ordinarily, a U.S. economy this strong would translate into light-vehicle sales in the 17-million range."