The profit windfall is over

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Game on.

That's the real lesson from May auto sales.

Forget the huge percentage gains from Toyota, Honda and Subaru.

Forget the May market share swing from Detroit back to Japanese brands.

Forget Wall Street analysts shouting "Disappointing!" because industry sales were merely steady and missed their frothy guestimates.

Forget that 26 percent May sales jump.

Because they're not surprises. Anybody really think Toyota and Honda wouldn't outsell last May, when their cupboards were bare?

The real news: The U.S. market is fully competitive again. And that means the high-profit interlude is over.

Last May was the first month the production disruption from the March Japan earthquake started to affect U.S. dealer supplies. And all U.S. automakers saw those bare Toyota and Honda dealer lots as a signal to throttle back on incentives. With supplies suddenly tight, dealers stopped chasing low-margin deals. Margins on the remaining deals got fat.

The pain from the quake was intense. But in the U.S. marketplace, those big margins were welcome.

But May results confirm it: The market is restocked. Consumers have full choice again.

And it's back to normal competition.

You can reach Jesse Snyder at jsnyder@crain.com.

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