Automakers and dealers started February with bulging lots after inventories grew faster than January U.S. auto sales. The industrywide stock of 4,025,700 unsold light vehicles is the record for this time of year, topping the previous high of 3.9 million set on Feb. 1, 2005. It's up 115,900 from Jan. 1 and is 335,300 units higher than a year earlier.
Measured by how long supplies would last at January's sales pace, Feb. 1 stocks jumped to an 85-day supply from 63 days on Jan. 1, even though January's seasonally adjusted annualized selling pace was a brisk 17.6 million. That's above the Feb. 1 average supply of 80 days over the previous 25 years of comparable records.
Days supply grew during the month for all major automakers, led by General Motors' surge to 107 days from 71 at the start of the year. But GM said it was deliberately stockpiling supplies of three key vehicles as it prepares for production changeover to redesigned models.
"In early January, we focused on profitability while key competitors sold down their large stocks of deeply discounted, old-model-year pickups," said Kurt McNeil, GM's U.S. sales boss. "We gained considerable sales momentum as we rebuilt our midsize pickup, SUV and compact crossover inventories."
Among major players, Hyundai-Kia had the smallest stock buildup during January, to 62 days supply from 58 on Jan. 1. Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler came closest to GM on Feb. 1, with Ford at 95 days and FCA US at 92 days. But ALG chief analyst Eric Lyman praised the Detroit 3 for cutting production to address declining demand. "They're showing good discipline," he said.