After a long, slow climb back, new-vehicle inventory levels in the United States topped 2 million last month for the first time since April 2021 as the industry continues to move away from production disruptions, according to estimates by Cox Automotive and the Automotive News Research & Data Center.
Cox Automotive estimated inventories at 2.06 million vehicles in its latest report, up more than 837,000 vehicles from a year ago, or 68 percent. Inventories reached their lowest levels in September 2021, when they dropped under 830,000, Cox said, and spent much of the next year hovering between that low and 1.1 million, before beginning to steadily gain ground in August 2022.
Despite the recent gains, automakers and dealers still have about 1.4 million fewer vehicles on their lots today than they did at the same point in 2019, and about 400,000 fewer than they did at this point in 2020, according to Cox estimates.
Asian brands continue to have the industry's lowest days' supply, according to Cox and the Automotive News Research & Data Center, while Detroit 3 brands dominate the list of those with the highest days' of supply.
All seven automakers that report monthly U.S. sales and inventory data saw their days' supply increase from the previous month, according to data compiled by the Automotive News Research & Data Center. Ford saw the steepest gain, jumping 13 days and back above a two months' supply, while other automakers saw stockpiles jump between two and five days' supply, with Volvo the only other automaker carrying more than 30 days of inventory.
As has been the case for much of the last year, Cox noted that new-vehicle inventories were lowest in segments and among models with lower sticker prices, while those at the other end of the price spectrum, including many EVs, had higher than average inventory levels.
Michelle Krebs, executive analyst with Cox Automotive, said that, whether a purposeful strategy or not, Stellantis, Ford and General Motors seem to have prepared themselves and their dealers for any potential production disruptions this year, especially in the highly profitable full-size pickup segment.
"I would say that [the Detroit 3] are well-stocked for a potential [UAW] strike. They are well-stocked in full-sized pickups, especially because the later months of the year are big for full-sized trucks," she said. "If sales momentum is slowing, as it appeared to in August, that could help the inventory situation as well."