U.S. auto dealers started this month with a 70-day supply of vehicles, tied for the lowest on record for Feb. 1. Two years earlier, dealer lots bulged with a 118-day supply, the highest for any date in two decades of recordkeeping.
Lessons learned from that Feb. 1, 2009, glut -- in the depths of the car-sales slump -- have deeply impressed surviving brands and dealers. Manufacturers more closely match output to demand. Dealers limit the number and type of vehicles in inventory. Floorplan lenders are fussier. Everybody adjusts more quickly.
Since mid-2009, inventory levels haven't varied much. They are big enough to give shoppers choices, while avoiding the need to offer big incentives.
The current 70-day supply of stock, based on the January sales rate, has never been lower for this time of year. In unit terms, the 2.4 million vehicles on hand are the second lowest on record for February.
For the past 20 months -- since working off the '09 glut -- supplies of light trucks and those of cars have been virtually identical. On Feb. 1, it was 71 days for light trucks and 70 for cars.
Most automakers are fairly close to the traditional industry ideal of a 60-day supply, although the range among major players is broader than normal this month.
Chrysler Group is highest among the largest automakers with an 89-day supply. Chrysler has big stocks of the Ram pickup and the recently introduced Chrysler 200 and Dodge Durango. At 43 days, Hyundai-Kia Automotive has the lowest supply, but with a mix of relatively larger dealerships, it normally runs leaner than most carmakers.