The automotive industry watchers at Edmunds predicted a sharp fall in March sales would lead to an overall decline of 11.8% in first-quarter car and truck sales in the U.S. On Wednesday, General Motors (GM 0.59%) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) reporting the first-quarter sales figures, and both were even worse than Edmund's estimates. 

The number of vehicles GM delivered in the U.S. in Q1 was about 7% lower than in the year-ago period. Edmunds forecast a drop of 4.3%. Fiat Chrysler (FCA) reported sales that were 10.4% lower, which exceeded the 7.1% drop Edmunds predicted. 

car salesman shaking hands and handing over keys to customer

Image source: Getty Images.

Plant closures

Both automakers noted that the spread of COVID-19 and the mitigation measures that have been put in place to slow it had taken a significant toll on sales in March. They also stressed that they offer online purchasing options.

Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president, Sales Operations for GM, pointed out that with its Shop, Click, Drive program, consumers can purchase vehicles via its e-commerce channel and have them delivered to their homes. FCA introduced a new online retail initiative called Drive Forward, which includes incentives and a purchasing program.

The sales headwinds will continue beyond the first quarter, as many automakers and suppliers have suspended production. FCA began a progressive shutdown of all its North American plants on March 18.

Both companies have announced that some of their facilities would be used to help manufacture face masks for people on the front lines fighting the pandemic. GM also has partnered with Ventec Life Systems to produce ventilators.