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U.S. States Whose Auto Industry Was Hit Hardest During COVID-19


U.S. States Whose Auto Industry Was Hit Hardest During COVID-19

Amid recent concerns about inflation, rising prices for new and used vehicles have received significant attention. According to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of vehicles increased by 11.8% for new cars and a whopping 37.3% for used cars from December 2020 to December 2021. Even in an environment of rising prices across the economy, the spike in vehicle prices stands out.

Many observers have pointed to ongoing challenges with the supply chain and a tight labor market as factors that are limiting supply and leading to an increase in prices. A shortage of semiconductor chips and other essential car components has hampered auto production, while backlogs at major ports are making it difficult to transport the vehicles and parts that are being produced. Manufacturers have been struggling to staff plants at full capacity with the tightness of the labor market, a situation worsened by the surge in cases from the Omicron variant. As a result of these factors, industry experts estimated that the industry could see a shortfall of about 8 million vehicles.

While many of these challenges are coming to a head now, the auto industry has struggled throughout the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, total U.S. auto exports experienced their biggest drop since the Great Recession with the onset of COVID shutdowns. As more drivers stayed home and manufacturers operated at more limited capacity, exports fell from approximately $10.5 billion in March 2020 to around $3.2 billion two months later. While monthly exports rebounded to more than $10.5 billion again by August, the industry has continued to struggle to exceed pre-pandemic levels since. In each of the first 11 months of 2021, export figures from U.S. automakers trailed the figures for the corresponding month in 2019, despite surging demand.

These ongoing struggles naturally pose greater challenges for states whose economies depend more heavily on car and auto part manufacturing. Michigan, the traditional home of the U.S. auto industry and home to giants like Ford and GM, accounted for nearly $16 billion in auto exports in 2020. South Carolina, which is home to major manufacturing facilities for BMW, Michelin, and a number of other auto parts companies, and California, which is a major center in the burgeoning electric vehicle market, are also large exporters.

While these major exporting states have been hard-hit as a result of the pandemic and could face more challenges in the near future, many other states have seen even greater declines. A total of 43 states had lower auto exports in 2020 than in 2019, but the size of the decline ranged from a 2.3% reduction all the way to a 51% decrease in exports. And the characteristics of a state’s auto industry did not spare any states from these difficulties: the states with large export losses experienced declines regardless of whether their industry concentrated in passenger vehicles, tractor trailers, motorcycles, or auto parts.

The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Foreign Trade Data. To identify the U.S. states whose automotive industries were hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at CoPilot calculated the percentage change in state automotive exports between 2019 and 2020. Researchers also calculated the percentage of total state exports accounted for by the automotive industry, as well as the automotive sector responsible for the most exports in 2020.

Here are the states whose auto industries were hit hardest during COVID.

State Rank Percentage change in auto exports (2019–2020) Total auto exports (2020) Total auto exports (2019) Auto exports as a share of total state exports Largest auto sector
Mississippi     1     -51.0% $577,561,521 $1,178,914,774 5.6% Passenger Vehicles (Internal Combustion)
Washington    2     -49.2% $570,863,349 $1,124,850,637 1.4% Road Tractors for Semi-trailers
Pennsylvania    3     -45.0% $1,136,532,516 $2,066,302,460 3.0% Motorcycles
Wyoming    4 –    36.0% $23,253,092 $36,316,995 2.0% Bodies for Road Tractors
Virginia    5     -35.6% $832,570,089 $1,293,755,497 5.1% Road Tractors for Semi-trailers
Arizona    6     -35.2% $387,614,930 $598,240,715 2.0% Motor Vehicles for Goods Transport
Tennessee    7     -34.5% $2,523,963,500 $3,851,343,633 9.0% Passenger Vehicles (Internal Combustion)
North Carolina    8     -33.2% $900,084,365 $1,348,192,451 3.2% Drive Axles
Ohio    9     -32.9% $5,933,273,841 $8,848,509,170 13.2% Passenger Vehicles (Internal Combustion)
Arkansas    10     -30.7% $153,882,650 $221,979,604 3.0% Suspension Shock Absorbers
Indiana    11     -30.5% $7,012,902,262 $10,089,583,845 19.8% Gear Boxes
Michigan    12     -29.9% $15,987,107,753 $22,813,060,777 36.0% Motor Vehicles for Goods Transport
Delaware    13     -27.3% $291,052,509 $400,590,517 7.4% Passenger Vehicles (Internal Combustion)
Maine    14     -24.2% $34,631,865 $45,680,861 1.5% Trailers & Semi-trailers
California    15     -23.3% $11,085,046,400 $14,454,461,847 7.1% Motor Vehicles (Electric Motor)
United States    –     -21.1% $105,560,728,656 $133,834,667,670 7.4% Passenger Vehicles (Internal Combustion)

For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on CoPilot’s website:


The Most Car-Dependent States

Car travel is a uniquely American obsession. Part of this fact is practical reality: in comparison to most other developed nations, the U.S. has a land area that is larger, cities that are less densely populated, and mass transit infrastructure that is less robust. As a result, the ability to travel by car is almost essential for getting around, and by most metrics of car usage, the U.S. outpaces its international peers.

But cars and road travel also occupy a special place in the public imagination, often associated with American ideals of freedom and exploration. The idea of being able to go anywhere at any time in America’s vast landscape is a powerful one. And this as much as cars’ utility in the U.S. has helped fuel high levels of car travel over the last century.

Americans’ car fixation can be seen in data from the Federal Highway Administration. Since 1960, the rate of growth for vehicle registrations has vastly outstripped the rate of growth of the population. Initially, some of that trend could be attributed to rising economic prosperity and the growth of car-centric suburban communities in the postwar era. But now, the total number of registered vehicles in the U.S. exceeds the number of licensed drivers—by more than 50 million. This indicates a high number of multi-car households and even multi-car drivers.

With the increase in vehicles on the road comes more miles traveled. For the most part, the total number of miles traveled has also been on an upward trajectory over the last half-century, reaching a peak in 2019 at 271 billion vehicle miles traveled. COVID-19 has represented a major aberration, however: 2020 saw a 13% decline in miles traveled, the largest year-over-year decline on record. The pandemic led to job losses and a mass transition to remote work, which reduced commutes, while shutdowns and the need to social distance put a dent in tourism and travel for leisure purposes. It remains to be seen whether shifts in work and commuting patterns will have lasting effects on miles traveled or if 2020 proves to be an outlier.

It is clear that for some states, car travel is not going anywhere anytime soon, regardless of the pandemic’s long-term effects. Many of the states where people drive the most miles are rural and not densely populated, so their use of cars is a necessity. The national leader is Wyoming—the nation’s second least densely-populated state—with more than 24,000 miles traveled per year per licensed driver. At the other end of the spectrum, Rhode Island is the second most densely-populated state and the state with the smallest land area, which both contribute to its low levels of driving.

Vehicle-miles traveled is one strong indication of how much states depend on cars, but it is not the only one. Other indicators can reflect how common vehicle ownership and travel are in a state’s households. To find the locations most dependent on cars, researchers at Copilot used data from the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau to develop a composite measure based on the annual vehicle-miles traveled per licensed driver (40%), the average number of vehicles per household (30%), the number of licensed drivers per 1,000 residents in the driving age population (15%), and the proportion of working adults with at least one vehicle available (15%).

Here are the most car-dependent states.

State Rank  Composite score Annual vehicle-miles traveled per licensed driver Average number of vehicles per household Licensed drivers per 1k driving-age population Proportion of working adults with at least one vehicle available


Alabama    1     87.8     17,817 1.09 1,022 97.8%
Montana    2     81.4     15,880 1.00 938 98.1%
Wyoming    3     78.7     24,069 0.83 923 98.5%
South Dakota    4     74.0     15,541 0.95 925 97.9%
Georgia    5     66.2     18,334 0.89 864 97.0%
Utah    6     65.7     15,516 0.89 892 98.1%
Nebraska    7     65.0     14,846 0.84 947 98.2%
Kentucky    8     64.0     16,305 0.94 847 97.3%
New Mexico    9     63.3     19,157 0.80 865 97.9%
Missouri    10     63.1     18,521 0.83 868 97.3%
Idaho    11     61.9     14,417 0.91 901 98.3%
Iowa    12     61.9     14,745 0.94 906 97.5%
Indiana    13     61.8     18,024 0.84 859 97.1%
Delaware    14     61.7     12,609 1.12 1,024 97.2%
South Carolina    15     61.6     14,941 0.87 932 97.5%
United States    –     N/A     14,263 0.87 868 95.7%


For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on CoPilot’s website: