Vehicle inventories plunged to record low levels in the wake of the August sales surge caused by cash for clunkers.
The total of 1.43 million unsold light vehicles on Sept. 1 is by far the lowest in 18 years of available data. The industrywide 30-day supply is also an all-time low.
On Aug. 1, inventory totaled 1.83 million, and the industry had a 48-day supply.
Manufacturers are boosting production to replenish dealership lots.
"It will take about a month to restock dealerships" for most models, said Haig Stoddard, head of North American production forecasting for IHS Global Insight in suburban Detroit.
Fuel-efficient cars and crossovers that were eligible for clunker deals are in shortest supply. On Sept. 1, Chrysler had a three-day supply of the Jeep Patriot and four days of the Jeep Compass. Mazda had a six-day supply of the Mazda5 crossover. Ford had enough Focus cars to last 13 days, Chevrolet had 19 days of the Cobalt, and Toyota had only 10 days of all cars.
Because it is based on the faster August selling rate, Ford analyst George Pipas said, a 30-day industry supply is not as bad as it sounds. Clunkers boosted August sales to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 13.7 million, compared with 9.5 million for the first half.
"The September sales rate will be slower," Pipas said. "Ford's not going to sell 25,000 Focuses in September," as it did in August.