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As Sales Climb, Automakers Struggle to Produce Enough Cars

For months, shoppers have been streaming back into auto dealerships, helping automakers rebound from the pandemic. But now automakers are struggling to keep up with demand because a global shortage of computer chips is limiting how many cars and trucks they can make.

On Friday Ford Motor, which has been hurt by the chip shortage more than most of its rivals, said it had 162,100 truck and cars in dealer inventories, fewer than half the number it had just three months ago and roughly a quarter of the stocks dealers typically hold.

“The question from here is how fast and when can production improve and inventory recover such that it doesn’t weigh on sales,” Joseph Spak, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, wrote on Friday in a note to investors.

Mr. Spak said he was confident demand for trucks and cars would remain strong into 2022, but he was not sure when manufacturers would be able to restore full production. “Our thinking had been we could see a bottom in June/July, but with some more production shutdowns announced we wonder if this could be pushed to late summer,” he wrote.

The robust demand was evident in the strong second-quarter sales numbers most automakers reported this week. Tesla, the electric carmaker, sold 201,250 cars globally in the second quarter, more than twice as many as in the same period a year earlier, the company said on Friday, suggesting that it was not as badly affected by the chip shortage.

The company sold nearly 91,000 cars in the second quarter of 2020, when auto sales around the world were kept low by the pandemic. The company delivered nearly 185,000 cars in the first three months of this year. For the last few years, Tesla’s growth has been mainly fueled by growth in China and Europe.

“Our teams have done an outstanding job navigating through global supply chain and logistics challenges,” the company said in a statement.

It’s unclear how Tesla’s sales fared in the United States because the company does not break out deliveries by country. On Thursday, General Motors and Toyota Motor said their U.S. sales rose 40 percent for the April-to-June quarter. Honda, Hyundai and Kia all reported sales increases of more than 70 percent in the quarter.

But Ford’s U.S. deliveries rose just 9 percent in the second quarter, to 472,260 light trucks and cars, a modest gain from a year-earlier total that had been depressed substantially by the pandemic. That total was also below Honda’s sales of 486,419 for the quarter, a rare instance of the much smaller Japanese company’s outselling Ford.

In another worrisome note, Ford’s sales of its highly profitable F-series pickup trucks fell 12 percent in the second quarter, to 158,235.

Because of its reliance on a chip maker that had suffered a fire at a key factory in Japan this year, Ford had to idle several North American plants for various periods in the second quarter, and was able to produce only about half as many vehicles in the period as it had planned.

In June, when dealer inventories had dwindled because of the production cuts, Ford’s sales fell 27 percent from the same month in 2020.

This week, the company outlined additional production halts planned for July at plants across North America. The plants affected include three that make F-series models.

Even Tesla has been hurt by the chip shortage. In the last several weeks, the company has dropped certain features from its vehicles, such as an adjustable lower-back support in passenger seats and a radar sensor from its Autopilot driver-assistance system. The company said that lumbar support was hardly ever used by customers and that Autopilot’s cameras were sufficient, but analysts said the moves appeared to have been prompted at least in a part by the shortage of chips. Cars can use dozens of chips to control various features and systems, including engines, motors, touch screens and so on.

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