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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Automakers sold an estimated 14.5 million vehicles in 2020 — down about 15% from a year earlier and the lowest level since 2012 — as the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the industry's long winning streak.

Why it matters: Ordinarily, carmakers would be disappointed by the final sales figures, but given 2020's unprecedented challenges, most are relieved that demand bounced back in the second half, fueling optimism for fat year-end profits and continued growth in 2021.

Details: Automakers saw strong demand for SUVs and pickups, their most profitable vehicles, which were in short supply after months-long factory shutdowns early in the pandemic.

  • Tight inventories left little bargaining room for consumers, so prices remained high, padding profits.
  • GM and Toyota outperformed the industry, with sales down a little over 11% for the year. Nissan sales fell 33% for the year.
  • IHS Markit expects 2021 sales to reach 16 million units, up about 10%.

What to watch: Automakers will report fourth-quarter and year-end financial results in the coming weeks.

  • Yes, but: Investors have shown little enthusiasm for legacy automakers, despite strong results. Instead, they're infatuated with unproven electric vehicle startups, hoping to find the next Tesla.

Editor's note: Not all automakers have reported their year-end figures.

Go deeper

14 hours ago - Economy & Business

Biden's car shopping list may be too picky

Photo: Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

President Biden's plan to replace the government’s fleet of 650,000 cars and trucks with electric vehicles assembled in the U.S. by union workers is easier said than done.

Why it matters: The populist "Buy American" message sounds good, but the vehicles Biden wants are still several years away and his purchase criteria would require an expensive overhaul of automakers' manufacturing strategies, not to mention a reversal of fortune for labor organizers long stymied by Tesla and other non-union companies.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 26, 2021 - Science

Investment in the space industry overcame the pandemic's headwinds in 2020

A SpaceX launch in 2020. Photo: SpaceX

Investment in the space industry continued to grow in the last quarter of 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from Space Capital.

Why it matters: The space industry turned out to be far more robust in the face of the pandemic than many experts were initially expecting.

Kaine, Collins' censure resolution seeks to bar Trump from holding office again

Sen. Tim Kaine (center) and Sen. Susan Collins (right). Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are forging ahead with a draft proposal to censure former President Trump, and are considering introducing the resolution on the Senate floor next week.

Why it matters: Senators are looking for a way to condemn Trump on the record as it becomes increasingly unlikely Democrats will obtain the 17 Republican votes needed to gain a conviction, Axios Alayna Treene writes. "I think it’s important for the Senate's leadership to understand that there are alternatives," Kaine told CNN on Wednesday.