When automakers pledged to slash inventories, they meant it.
U.S. carmakers and dealers started the month with the lowest stocks for any June on record -- a 48-day supply of light vehicles -- and the fifth-lowest for any month in 19 years of records.
The only months in which the days supply was lower followed extraordinary events in the industry: cash for clunkers last August, a U.S. sales record of 1.8 million vehicles in July 2005, the post-Sept. 11 "Keep America Rolling" campaign in October 2001, and a lengthy supplier strike in 1998.
But last month, sales totaled 1.1 million -- the worst May in more than two decades, except for a year earlier.
The days supply figure is calculated by using the daily selling rate of the previous month. So getting to a low days supply with May's lackluster sales took really low inventory units. The 2,055,400 unsold units constituted the seventh-lowest on record, higher only than the stretch from Aug. 1, 2009, to Jan. 1, 2010.
Matching production to demand is a perennial battle for automakers, with most seeking equilibrium at about a 60-day supply.
During the slump, balancing inventories became a survival skill. Dealers struggling to finance floorplans during the credit crunch ran thinner inventories. Ford Motor Co. and other automakers worked to cut inventories.
To help dealers turn stock faster, Ford reduced model complexity. The goal is to sell more with less inventory, said George Pipas, Ford's chief sales analyst.
This month's unsold stock shows nearly everybody running lean.
All large automakers started June well under the 60-day barrier, and all but Toyota reduced stock on a days supply basis compared with 2009.
Including the smaller players, the only automaker flush with stock is Suzuki. Its 8,600 vehicles on hand is virtually the same as last year at this time. But because Suzuki sales so far this year have plunged 53 percent, that's enough to last 117 days.