SAN FRANCISCO -- "We want cars, and we want them now."
That was the unofficial theme of this year's National Automobile Dealers Association convention. Dealers are delighted by demand but frustrated by their inability to get the vehicles they want.
Automakers are having trouble ramping up to meet surging desire for vehicles and have been hurt by shortages of key parts. Those problems and a switch to a pull system -- whereby dealers keep fewer vehicles on their lots and place orders based on customers' preferences -- have exposed the deficiencies of automakers' distribution systems.
When dealers held huge inventories, it mattered less if some of the cars were the wrong trim levels. But with far fewer vehicles on the lot, it's critical that the ordering and distribution systems get the right vehicles to the right markets.
That's not happening.
"It's a matter of not getting enough of the right cars," said Bob Edwards, a multibrand dealer in Council Bluffs, Iowa. "Who knows how many Hyundais I could sell if I could get the right inventory? Who knows how many diesel trucks I could sell if I could get the right inventory?"
Linda Walston, business manager for Napa Ford-Lincoln, in Napa, Calif., said her dealership is having a hard time getting Ford Mustangs, F-150 pickups and the redesigned Explorer crossover. The store trades with other Ford dealerships to get enough of those vehicles to satisfy customer demand.
"The other dealers around us have 10 or 12, and we just have one," Walston said. "You have to sell them in order to earn more, and you can't sell them if you don't have them."