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This Year's Car Sales Exceeded Expectation Despite The Pandemic

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A lot of things changed this year, but one truth endured. Americans buy a lot of cars. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, dealerships have been selling plenty of vehicles, far more than anyone expected when lockdowns started this spring. NPR's Camila Domonoske reports.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Back in March, things looked dire for the auto industry.

IVAN DRURY: I think the vibe was utter despair and doom.

DOMONOSKE: Ivan Drury is with the auto data company Edmunds, and he wasn't the only one getting that vibe.

NICK WOOLARD: Obviously, it looked like the sky was falling.

DOMONOSKE: Nick Woolard is the head of analytics for car shopping site TrueCar. But estimates for year-end sales have come out, and it turns out millions of people wanted to buy cars, even during this crisis.

WOOLARD: Sales are looking really strong.

DOMONOSKE: There's a big caveat here. Total sales are down a lot because governments and businesses aren't buying like normal. But individual Americans are showing up in droves at dealerships. Safety concerns play a role, like people who used to take public transit and now want a car. But there's a lifestyle component too. The pandemic caused a number of people to move, and moving often makes people consider a car purchase. Woolard, the TrueCar analyst, says he's experiencing this firsthand. His family relocated from Los Angeles to Boulder, Colo. And...

WOOLARD: I'm a perennial Prius buyer. I'm on my fourth Prius, and it's not working out so great in the snow. It's OK. But I would consider myself in the market for a truck potentially, which is a big shift.

DOMONOSKE: A lot of buyers are looking for bigger vehicles right now, and the people who can afford new cars can afford a lot of car. They're paying almost 40 grand on average.

Camila Domonoske, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.