Inventories of unsold cars and light trucks have swollen to their highest levels since the recession while sales growth in the U.S. market has slowed significantly in the past five months. That combination could mean larger discounts and incentives and lower profit margins in 2014. According to Automotive News, all three domestic automakers started February with more than a 100-day supply of unsold vehicles. Industry-wide automakers had 88 days’ worth of vehicles at the start of February, the highest February inventories have been since 2009, when the industry was at its nadir.
As a portent of things to come, on Friday GM began a nearly month long Presidents Day promotion on Chevrolet, Buick and GMC vehicles, with some of GM’s biggest incentive offers in months.
In January, sales declined 3 percent and the seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate fell to 15.2 million, the lowest since April. Much of that decline was attributed by automakers to the severe winter weather that blanketed much of the country. Analyst, though, say that there are other factors besides the weather.
Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said that after four years of growth, the sales pace “appears to have stalled.”
“The industry stands at a crossroads,” Jonas told AN. “We really think the best of the U.S. auto replacement cycle is over. The incremental buyer is moving from someone who needs to replace their car to one who just wants to, making financial willingness to lend and credit availability more important than ever.”
Car companies are minimizing the impact of rising inventories and so far most are not giving in to increasing incentives.
GM’s inventory grew by about 32,000 units in January in a month that saw sales fall 12% from the previous year. That resulted in a 114-day supply of vehicles as of Feb. 1, the highest among major automakers, up significantly from 81 days a month earlier.
Ford Motor’s Feb. 1 supply was up to 107 days, after starting the year at 73 days, and Chrysler Group had a 105-day supply, up from 79 days. Chrysler’s inventory situation was helped by strong sales of the new Jeep Cherokee.