Stocks stay on target -- with help

With a little help from increased incentives, automakers kept U.S. inventories at near-ideal levels to start August.

Unsold light vehicles crept up to a 62-day supply from 60 days on July 1. The industry considers a 60- to 65-day supply ideal, but it's a bit high for this time of year as automakers shift production to 2015 models and wind down 2014 stock. Over the last 10 years, Aug. 1 supplies averaged 55 days.

Still, most automakers are at or near normal stock levels, a sign of balanced production and demand.

Direct inventory comparisons are difficult because automakers count inventory differently. Some count all vehicles that have left factories; others exclude units on boats, on storage lots or otherwise in transit.

Auto sales are strong, with seasonally adjusted selling rates above 16 million the past five months. But automakers had to boost incentives to motivate buyers. Average per-unit incentives rose 7 percent in July to $2,731, said.

"That's almost $4 billion automakers spent in July, levels not seen since 2010," said TrueCar Executive Vice President Larry Dominique. "Incentives are a bit of a concern."

Volkswagen brand had a 118-day supply on Aug. 1, up from 90 days on April 1. The brand's U.S. sales were down 14 percent through July.

All Detroit 3 full-sized pickups have supplies above 100 days, but for different reasons. Ford Motor is building stocks of the Ford F series before factory changeovers for a redesigned model late this year. General Motors is carrying more stock of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra as it tries to raise transaction prices on its new-generation pickups. Chrysler Group is chasing more market share for the Ram pickup, explaining why corporate August incentives jumped 13 percent.

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