Incentives helped reduce some of the industry's fattest inventories in May, leaving the overall days' supply at 60 days on June 1.
That compares with 67 days overall a month earlier. The days' supply has trended generally downward in 1997.
The six biggest companies all declined in May:
Chrysler Corp. fell to 65 days, from 67 a month earlier, as the company trimmed an oversupply of minivans. Early in May, Chrysler offered a free fourth door, valued at $595, as an option. In mid-May, that offer was sweetened to as much as $1,000 off.
Ford Motor Co. dropped from 72 to 64 days, also with help from incentives - including $1,000 off the 1998 Windstar minivan. The Windstar went from a 72-day supply on May 1 to 55 days. The Explorer, which Ford prides itself on not discounting, went from an unusually high 81 days to 66 - no rebate, but Ford Credit offered interest rates as low as 4.8 percent.
General Motors, which also employed a wide range of incentives, declined from 76 to 68 days. A strike that has since ended affected the availability of the Chevrolet Malibu and the Oldsmobile Cutlass. Another strike hit full-sized Chevrolet and GMC pickups.
Among the Japanese, Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A. dropped from 103 days to 86. American Honda Motor Co. Inc. went from 48 days to 41, even though sales of the Acura SLX are off to a slow start. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. dropped from 27 days to only 19.
Some hot-selling models were in shorter supply than ever as of June 1, with or without discounts. Lexus dealers, for instance, had only a five-day supply, and the new ES300 was practically sold out. ES300 sales were up 40.4 percent year to date, but increased only 3.3 percent in May because of short supplies.
'We are short, no question,' said John Iacono, general manager of Lexus of Manhattan (N.Y.). Iacono said customers may have to wait three or four weeks for an ES300, but he said he didn't think the dealership had lost sales as a result.
Lexus spokesman Mike Michels acknowledged sales would have been higher if not for the short supply, but said he expected sales to pick up this month. Two weeks into May, Lexus also added a special-edition LS400 and a discounted package of options, plus a $2,000 dealer rebate.
'We have something that's very much in demand,' Iacono said. 'That helps you long-term.'