Blame it on long order-to-delivery times. Or on orders generated by one-size-does-not-fit-all computers.
There are scores of reasons dealers do not always have the car, truck or equipment customers want. But that does not mean they have to do without.
When dealers cannot turn to the factory, they turn to each another. 'Dealer trading' - when dealers swap vehicles among themselves - has developed as a partial solution to an inefficient distribution system. It is time-consuming, but it works.
Dan Bonawitz, vice president of automotive corporate planning and logistics at American Honda Motor Co. Inc., says the practice increased sharply after Asian and European makes began to play a significant role in the U.S. market.
'That was the only way to get a car when the lead time was four or five months,' he says.
Jim Delk, general manager of Falls Lincoln Mercury in Wichita Falls, Texas, says he trades regularly.
'You can't have every color and option in inventory,' Delk explains.
Randy Hiley, who owns five Saturn stores in Dallas-Fort Worth and a Mazda-Volkswagen dual in Arlington, Texas, says, 'We trade about 15 to 20 percent of VW and Mazda sales to get the exact equipment the customer wants. Saturn is more like 25 percent, but I mostly just trade within my own stores.'
Greg Stewart, owner of Town & Country Automotive Group (Chevrolet-Oldsmobile-Buick-Pontiac) in Minneapolis, Kan., says, 'We're turning to (dealer trades) all of the time.'
On the other hand, Stewart says he believes dealers soon will become more hesitant to trade because trading away a vehicle could disrupt a dealer's turn-and-earn allocation. For small dealers who only get small numbers of each model, trading away a vehicle could hurt them a month down the road.
Most manufacturers do not mind dealers trading vehicles among themselves. In fact, many companies' vehicle ordering systems not only let dealers see their own vehicle allocation, but also the allocations of nearby dealers. That allows dealers to arrange trades among themselves even before the vehicles arrive at dealerships.
Don Gordon, owner of Gordon Nissan in Burlington, Wash., a rural community about 75 miles north of Seattle, says Nissan's system lets him see his allocation and the allocations of nearby dealers for the next three months.
If another dealer is getting a vehicle Gordon needs, he can call that dealer and attempt a trade. If the other dealer agrees, Nissan will send the other dealer's previously allocated vehicle to Gordon and one of Gordon's previously allocated vehicles to the trading dealer.
Gordon says he checks the system two or three times a week to see what has been ordered and the status of the orders.