Tesla, the world’s most valuable automaker by far, said on Saturday that globally it sold 500,000 cars in 2020, up 36 percent from the year before. The company does not break its sales down by country or continent.
Ford Motor and most other automakers are expected to report their 2020 sales totals on Wednesday.
Because the virus surged at different times in different places, auto sales have also moved in unexpected ways, said Mark Wakefield, a managing partner at Alix Partners, a consulting firm with a large automotive practice.
“If you are an urban dealer, you probably had a lot of disruption, but if you are in a rural area and mostly sell pickup trucks, maybe your sales were only down 5 percent for the year,” he said.
Alix Partners is forecasting that the industry will sell 15.8 million cars and light trucks in 2021. That would be an increase of about 1.3 million but still well below the roughly 17 million level the industry had maintained for several years before 2020.
Mr. Wakefield said a smooth and rapid vaccination effort could give the auto business and the economy additional lift. “If the vaccination rollouts happen well, you could see additional spending get unleashed,” he said.
Forecasters remain cautious because millions of Americans are out of work and under financial pressure. But a significant number of consumers — typically white-collar professionals who have continued collecting paychecks while working at home — have money to spend because they’ve had to cut back on travel, dining and entertainment.
“There is a lot of disposable income out there,” Mr. Keogh said.
Automakers are counting on several new models this year to keep sales on the rise. Ford has redesigned its F-150 pickup truck, the top-selling vehicle in the country, and is bringing back the Bronco, a once popular S.U.V. that the company had not made in years. Ford also recently began delivering the Mustang Mach E, an electric S.U.V. styled to resemble its iconic sports car. Volkswagen plans to start selling an electric S.U.V., the ID.4, in March. And G.M. is planning to reboot the Hummer as an electric pickup truck this fall.