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Phil Long Ford dealership is pictured in Motor City Drive. Colorado new vehicle registration totals show the auto industry is off to a strong start in 2021, increasing 3.2% in the first quarter from the same period last year.

Colorado automobile sales were up 3.2% in the first quarter from the same period last year and are expected to keep climbing through 2021, according to the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association.

“The increase would have been higher were it not for the typical lag in measuring registrations,” according to the report called Colorado Auto Outlook, noting registrations can lag 60 days or more behind the sale. As a result, the first quarter numbers reflect sales made in November through January.

El Paso County lagged the rest of the state with a 1.8% increase in new vehicle registrations during the quarter, compared with a year earlier. Routt, Grand and Pitkin counties reported the biggest registration jumps, all more than 40%, while Weld, Pueblo and Mesa counties reported double-digit percentage declines. Registrations in the Denver area were up 5% during the quarter.

Kevin Shaughnessy, vice president of operations for Phil Long Dealerships, said the local numbers likely are lower due to restrictions triggered by a wave of coronavirus cases last fall.

The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association group tracks new sales through vehicle registrations. There were 64,039 vehicles sold in the January-to-March period, or nearly 2,000 more registered during the same period in 2020.

Colorado vehicle registrations decline in 2020

The percentage of “light truck” sales — which include sport utility vehicles, pickups and vans — climbed to a whopping 86% of sales, eclipsing the 82.3% market share during the same period in 2020. Light-truck registrations were up 8% year over year, while passenger car registrations fell 19.3% during the same period.

The report predicts 2021 sales will increase 7.7% over 2020 levels.

“If the outlook for 2021 was only a function of demand, vehicle sales would likely be off to the races in the second half of the year,” according to the report. “But lean inventories will act as a speed bump that will slow the pace of the recovery.”

Tim Jackson, president of the dealer group, said he expects the industry will “more than make up” last year’s 12.5% drop in registrations.

DMV officials warn of 'significant delays' in titling or registration activities due to COVID-19

“I think we will work through the supply issues and there is definitely pent-up demand out there,” Jackson said. “The supply issues has pushed prices higher, and that might mean buyers choose a less-expensive or used vehicle.”

The inventories are lower because of a microchip shortage, supply-related bottlenecks and the slower pace of the economic recovery from the pandemic.

Shaughnessy, the Phil Long executive, said numbers in the second quarter are likely to improve as many of the pandemic restrictions eased in the past few months. He said inventory shortages, however, likely will slow sales through midyear — the dealership group maintains a 60-75-day supply of vehicles and is down to a 10-15-day supply and he doesn’t expect improvement until this summer.

“We will reach the bottom of this by June or July and it will begin to improve, but I think the impact will last through the end of the year. If we can’t get cars, we have nothing to sell,” Shaughnessy said.

Other news from the report:

Colorado car market begins slow recovery with 5% gain in November

• Good news on the hybrid/electric vehicle front: New registrations were up 58% year over year, from 4,573 in first quarter of 2020 to 7,868 in the first quarter of 2021. But that still only represents about 12% of overall sales.

• The best-selling model in Colorado was the Ram pickup (4.7%), followed by the Ford F-series and Toyota 4Runner.

• Toyota again was the best selling brand in the state, with 14.7% of the market. Ford (10.9%) and Subaru (10.4%) followed.

• Volvo, Porsche and Tesla showed the largest percentage increase in sales for cars, while Infiniti, Mitsubishi and Dodge posted the biggest decrease.

• As far as the luxury car market, Tesla had the biggest market share (24.9%), followed by BMW (17.2%) and Audi (15.7%).

Vehicle registrations set record in October despite pandemic
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