Here's a sure sign that executives feel a lot less giddy about prospects for new-vehicle sales than they did a year ago.
Add up the internal forecasts of automakers for 2014 and, theoretically, you get a total that roughly equals what analysts expect the overall market to be. And that almost never happens.
Usually carmakers expect their own brands to outperform everyone else's, especially in a rising market. So the sum of the companies' expectations far exceeds predictions about the size of the total market. It's the old story: Combined market share forecasts come to 120 or 130 percent of the market.
Well, not so this year. The brand-by-brand forecasts, when added up, total less than 16.4 million units. That's about the same as the consensus industrywide forecast -- a sign of scaled-back expectations and a growing fear of bloated inventories.
After a bullish 2013 projection -- which it exceeded -- Toyota Motor is dialing back to a modest 3 percent growth plan.
"Our plan right now [is to outperform], but we will reassess at a couple key points," Toyota Division General Manager Bill Fay said last week. "It's been a little bit of a slow start to the year, but we're very optimistic it will be a 16 million year."
Analysts' forecasts range as high as 16.5 million, up from 15.6 million sales in 2013. LMC Automotive projects 16.2 million; Kelley Blue Book, 16.3 million; Edmunds, 16.4 million and Cars.com analyst Jesse Toprak, 16.5 million.
All analysts said last week they are sticking to their 2014 forecasts. Toprak said "consumers who delayed purchases due to severe weather will start coming back to the dealerships in strong numbers beginning this month."
And he added that inventory buildup "will cause sizable increases in incentive spending especially in the large truck segment."
But the exuberant forecasts carmakers made in the past two years have largely disappeared. A year ago, the sum of automakers' forecasts for 2013 was 15.8 million, compared with the consensus forecast of 15.1 million to 15.4 million units. Sales came in over the most optimistic projection but still fell short of the sum total of individual brand projections by 207,000 units. That overcapacity showed up in increased incentive spending in the fourth quarter as inventories rose dramatically.
For 2012, the consensus forecast was 13.6 million to 13.8 million, but the combined internal targets of 15 automakers came to 14.4 million.