With strong sales, low inventory

After robust September sales, automakers started October with just slightly higher vehicle supply than normal.

Automakers and U.S. dealers had a 65-day supply to start the month, or five days more than the average for Oct. 1 during the previous 25 years. That compares with a 71-day supply on Sept. 1, which was 15 days higher than the 56-day average for that date.

The 6.3 percent sales gain in September helped cut the days’ supply number, which measures how long stocks would last at the previous month’s selling pace.

Inventory of 3.81 million on a unit basis was down 2 percent.

This year, automakers have struggled to balance inventories as demand has swung sharply from cars to light trucks and sales have fallen1.7 percent from 2016’s record pace.

Meanwhile, three things are evident:

1. Automakers cleared out 2017 models. Edmunds estimated just 16 percent of September sales were 2018s.

2. Inventory is lumpy. While many automakers reduced days’ supply during September, several have wide variations among models. For example, General Motors has less than a 50-day supply of the Chevrolet Bolt, Malibu, Traverse and Equinox but 173 to 284 days’ supply of the Buick Regal and LaCrosse and Chevy Sonic. Acura has a 60-day supply of light trucks but 141 days of cars.

3. Stocks are getting truckier. On Oct. 1, light trucks accounted for 64 percent of U.S. inventory, up from 61 percent on Feb. 1. The Detroit 3 led the truck growth, jumping to 80 percent trucks from 75 percent. The rest of the industry remains car-heavy, up to 48 percent trucks from 45 percent during that period.