By on April 29, 2019

Unlike components used in new vehicle assembly, the finished product is not shipped to the customer in a just-in-time manner. There’s usually a healthy amount of dealer-ready vehicles on hand, though recent months has seen inventories slide into obesity. Extended downtime and shift cuts at assembly plants are one result of a bloated supply made worse by falling U.S. sales (Fiat Chrysler’s Windsor Assembly is just the latest victim), but autoworkers aren’t the only ones bearing the brunt.

Figures from the beginning of April shows the inventory problem is only getting worse, with pressure growing on the dealers tasked with selling these vehicles.

According to the Automotive News Data Center, inventory stood at 4,188,200 vehicles on April 1st — the highest figure seen since July 2017 and perilously close to the all-time record set in 2004. Only 114,300 vehicles separates April’s tally from that high water mark.

More concerning for automakers is the fact it’s half a million more vehicles than seen just before the Great Recession. All of these vehicles require a home before their trip to the dealer lot, too; AN‘s Larry Vellequette took a flight over Toledo on the weekend, snapping shots of FCA vehicles lining what was once a harness racing track.

The pressures facing dealers are many. Slumping new car sales, the trend towards reduced incentives to protect automakers’ bottom lines, and rising floorplan interest rates are sapping dealers of cash flow, leaving servicing to turn a profit. The need to store vehicles off-site is another growing expense. Your author noted a field of Kias in the middle of nowhere while driving to an Easter dinner last week.

All-new 2017 Jeep® Compass Limited - Image: Jeep

“Right now, there’s excessive inventory out there, and there’s a tremendous amount of pressure from almost all the brands to take additional cars,” David Hult, CEO of Asbury Automotive Group Inc. (America’s seventh-largest dealer group), told AN.

Hult said his group’s floorplan costs grew from $6.6 million to $10.2 million in the first quarter of this year, with two-thirds of the increase stemming from a vehicle supply that grew by 27 days’ worth. The rest of the cost increase arises from floorplan interest rates that now average more than 5 percent — a sharp and unwanted increase from recent years. Like many others, Hult is considering off-site storage.

“Space is absolutely an issue, and we’re bursting at the seams,” he said.

More vehicles in a dealer’s inventory and a slower turnover rate would mean more paid in interest, even if floorplan rates stayed static. Of course, they aren’t. And a longer wait to unload certain vehicles means potentially losing the manufacturer’s floorplan subsidy, hurting profitability further.

“You can afford to make a lot of mistakes when your floorplan interest rate is only 1.5 or 2 percent, but the room for error grows a lot tighter when you’re paying 5 or 5.5 percent,” said Marc Ray, co-owner of a company that operates a pair of Toledo Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram dealerships. Ray added that his carrying costs rose half a million dollars in the past year.

Of the bloated overall inventory, General Motors, Ford, and FCA make up more than half the tally, and, depending on the brands sold, manufacturer pressure on dealers can be intense and frustrating. Promises can prove fickle.

“I have so many vehicles, I stopped accepting deliveries,” an overwhelmed (and anonymous) FCA dealer in metro Detroit told AN. “First they told us to order [Dodge] Durangos because they were going to put extra support on them, so we stocked up, but the support never came. Then they stuffed us full of [Jeep] Compasses. Then they told us that in order to get [Jeep] Gladiator allocation, we had to order Ram pickups, so now I’ve got those coming out my ears.”

[Image: Janon Stock/Shutterstock, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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55 Comments on “Amid Rising Inventories and Falling Sales, Dealers Feel Pressure to Literally Stake Out New Ground...”


  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    “…his group’s floorplan costs grew from $6.6 million to $10.2 million in the first quarter of this year…”

    That just tells me his dealer is doing more than alright, if cost of business can jump 3 or 4 Million bucks and they still have their doors open. Makes you wonder what their profits really are.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      Cost jumping up $3-4 million in one quarter and the dealer still has their doors open doesn’t mean it is sustainable long term. Most businesses don’t close down the first instance (quarter) they lose money.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      It always rubs me the wrong way when someone questions a (competitive) business’ profits. Good on them for running a business that can weather this kind of uncertainty.

      Truth is, you may be able to deal with that big increase in costs for a quarter, maybe more, but that’s going to eat into your bottom line for the year, force you to put off other hiring, capital improvements, etc.

      For all the screaming and yelling people do about car buying, go look into the margin on jewelry, mattresses, general furniture, etc., and you’ll be screaming bloody murder.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        You can’t order, and buy, cars on Amazon, Ebay, directly from the manufacturer etc. That’s the big difference: Being forced to pay a cut to someone for no other reason than him being a Made Man.

        • 0 avatar
          hreardon

          Stuki – that’s primarily because the factory *likes it that way*. As soon as the vehicle leaves the factory, it’s the dealership’s problem.

          Car making is incredibly capital intensive – and cash flow is king.

          I agree wholeheartedly that the legal stranglehold that dealerships have over state legislatures is sickening, and I would welcome direct sales in a heartbeat.

          The big “but”, however, is that ironically this will not lead to a reduction in prices. The direct model leads to greater convenience and less frustration, but it does not always lead to lower prices.

          Someone will have to pay for the inventory, transport, prep, storage, service, etc., and if the factories do that direct, they’re adding a massive amount of overhead.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            “As soon as the vehicle leaves the factory, it’s the dealership’s problem. ”

            So true. Hence there is a GM dealership near me that is still well-stocked with 2018 and 2019 Silverado and Sierra pickup trucks this late in the model year.

            GM starts building the 2020 trucks in August.

            Well, maybe not.

            Oh and another dealership near me still has some brand new never-been-sold 2017 and 2018 RAM trucks, in addition to their $60K+ 2019 RAM trucks.

            The old grey mare ain’t what she used to be.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            “…it’s the dealership’s problem…”

            Yeah, up to a point. Then Automakers have to deal with the least undesirable turkeys. The best way is piles of factory rebates and incentives, yes often long after the vehicles first hit dealer lots.

            It sure beats having to eventually retake possession, eat shipping both ways, etc. Or why do automakers cough up billions in rebates every year if it’s not their problem too?

            If Ram overbuilt (1/2 ton) pickups, it was only to facilitate the changeover. But then fullsize pickups are a huge part of the “problem”. Buyers don’t want to order, sit and wait 13 weeks for a $52,000 pickup (net transaction). With so many combinations, trim, etc, the dealer and brand that’s most competitive, also own the biggest selection/inventory of fullsize pickups.

      • 0 avatar
        S197GT

        “It always rubs me the wrong way when someone questions a (competitive) business’ profits.”

        very few people i know begrudge a company for making profits; even sizable ones. as in most things the distaste derives from the *how*. whether perception or reality, that is why most people hate dealers.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Automakers and dealers better get on the same page quickly. It appears that 2019 is the year of the pullback. Perhaps manufacturers are committed to certain production numbers, but if the dealers can’t move them, who’s paying the bill for stashing these things? Someone’s gonna take a bath on the bloat and at some point the dealers will start saying ‘not us’.

    We’ve seen this story before…. in fact about 12 years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Agreed – there is a crash coming, and the dealers, mfrs, factories, and their workers will all lose.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        All these cars already so overpriced. Mexico-built Mazda3 30K. What?

        • 0 avatar
          KingShango

          Can we please stop with the “everything is over priced”. A Mazda 3 starts at $21k and if you decide to add every possible feature to it sure you can hit $30k. Furthermore a Camry in 1999 started at $17k, adjusted for inflation that’s about $26k now. A brand new 2019 Camry starts at $24k and is orders of magnitude better in every way.

          • 0 avatar

            ” A brand new 2019 Camry starts at $24k and is orders of magnitude better in every way.”

            May be for average Joe, but I personally do not care about Camry and how better it is or not compared with 1999. I do not want Camry at any price, just don’t.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “orders of magnitude better in every way.”

            Vs a ’99? One might argue the 99 is a better value proposition depending on the point of view.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            “A brand new 2019 Camry starts at $24k and is orders of magnitude better in every way”

            In measures of performance yes I agree. But in many measures of quality, absolutely not.

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            And besides, who buys it for 24? See the point. They could just sell it for same 20 they really sell it.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      The automakers are in a much better position today, in terms of discipline and overall right-sized employment, than they were back in 2008. There will be some pain, no doubt, but we’re far from a cataclysm.

      Remember: we’ve had almost 10 years of non-stop growth. A pause or pullback isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that a crash is imminent.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        When dealers are renting space to stockpile inventory, I fail to see the lesson learned. Once the overproduced goods leave the factory, what does the mfr care? Now it’s the various dealers’ problem.

        The growth of leases and longer loan terms indicates consumers are only committed to lower monthly payments – not ownership. In one sense this helps mfrs move metal, but it also makes clean used cars a great option.

        That US inventory is about 90 days’ worth – roughly 50% larger than it should be. Some vehicles are obviously more or less; even the Corvette is showing about 100 days of inventory.

      • 0 avatar
        thornmark

        they’re all loaded up w/ high priced trucks and SUVs, where they make the money

        w/ the glut they may be forced to lower their margins big time

        a price war may be in the offing, even among the German manufacturers who have eschewed price cuts in the past

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Then they told us that in order to get [Jeep] Gladiator allocation, we had to order Ram pickups, so now I’ve got those coming out my ears.”

    I remember GM doing that in the “bad old days” pre-bankruptcy (I’m sure they’re still doing it now.) The local Pontiac Buick GMC dealer had to take G3 deliveries to get the G6s, Torrents, and G8s that he wanted.

  • avatar
    DedBull

    This shows that the automakers don’t REALLY care about the wants and needs of the public, rather their customers are the dealers, and they have a captive market. “If you want X number of desirable product, you have to take Y number of product that we have to make to keep people busy.” I can imagine it’s hard to just shut down a production line if inventory rises and falls like the tide, especially if you want to keep a skilled workforce on the payroll. Hence you continue putting product out at a steady or slightly slowed pace, and force it down the throats of your distributors.

    It will be interesting to see if the manufacturers will look at this ballooning inventory and offer discounts to “clear the lots” or if they will continue to chase the “margin per unit” target while pumping out excess inventory.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      FYI GM has had 0% for 72 months for the past 3 months on Buick.

      Seems that at least GM isn’t being shy about “clearing it out”.

      As has been reported here RAM seems to be chasing increased sales through incentives.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I stopped by the local hyundai dealer for one of their $50 test drive VISA cards, took a Sonata SE out for a quick spin, perfectly competent car whose only remaining fault is tight rear headroom for taller adults. $19k with zero negotiation on my end from the very brief chat I had with a salesman.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I was thinking that with the new Sonata waiting in the wings the current Sonata is going to be steeply discounted for the foreseeable future.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Yeah I think they’re a pretty smart buy at firesale prices. But I just wanted my $50 more than anything else.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          I was just commenting because I the Sonata is one of those vehicles were you have to wonder what the actual cost to manufacture & dealers true price is because MSRP has ZERO bearing on ATP.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            I wonder too what the money side of things looks like on their sedans right now. Taking a hit like Ford on the Fusion but plodding along hoping to make up for it with lucrative CUV sales? Selling enough high trim cars with some more margin in them?

          • 0 avatar
            bd2

            Can say the same for pretty much all automakers these days when it comes to sedans.

            Edmunds was able to purchase their long-term tester Camry (previous gen) at around invoice even tho it was a brand new/recently launched model at the time.

            H/K are actually in pretty good shape compared to most when it comes to inventory.

            Toyota, Honda and Nissan are worse off, but not nearly as bad as VW.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      @gtem

      IIRC resale is abysmal on those. I’m talking 10K in two years with low miles, its eye watering.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        The more dependent buyers become on financing and leases, the closer atp gets to a fixed markup over ALG residuals: If your residuals are high, you can get MSRP. Otherwise, what you can get decreases in lockstep with your reduced residuals.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Are you talking about looking at MSRP though? Because if you look around and haggle, I’m pretty sure you’re driving off the lot with a Sonata SE for like $16k, 1-2 year old used ones are floating in the same range at retail from what I’ve seen. Similar story for Camries: can buy an LE for $18k without even going real hardball on ’em, 1 year old used ex-rental LEs seem to go for $16k on the lower end. Best time ever to be buying a midsizer IMO, regardless of brand.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          If you can get it brand new for 16 and then trade in 2 years / 20-30K for the 12ish its worth you’re basically ahead in my view. I’m not sure this is actually happening though,I think suckers are paying msrp + some hyundai cash (say $1,500)

          Per google, the MSRP on this thing is an eye watering $22,3. So you’re really out some quantity of 10K on one of these in two model years.

          “Hyundai Sonata SE. The Sonata SE carries a base price of $22,300. It comes with a 185-horsepower four-cylinder engine and an infotainment system with a 7-inch touch-screen display, Bluetooth, a USB port, a six-speaker sound system, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay.Apr 11, 2019”

          cars.usnews.com/cars-trucks/hyundai/sonata

          MY17 Hyundai Sonata SE

          4/16/19 $15,800 3,339 4.8 4G/A Red Regular Southeast Orlando
          4/23/19 $14,700 5,566 4.5 4G/A Brown Lease Southeast Orlando
          4/9/19 $14,700 5,732 4.1 4G/A White Lease Southeast Orlando
          4/9/19 $14,300 12,579 4.2 4G/A Black Lease Southeast Orlando
          4/2/19 $8,400* 14,423 1.3 4G/A Silver Lease Northeast Baltimore-Washington
          4/9/19 $13,000 14,994 3.7 4G/A Black Lease West Coast Riverside
          4/24/19 $13,600 17,308 4.3 4G/A Blue Lease Northeast New Jersey
          4/2/19 $13,100 18,886 4.0 4G/A Red Lease Northeast Philadelphia
          4/18/19 $14,200 19,086 4.4 4G/A Blue Lease Southeast Palm Beach
          4/23/19 $12,900 19,708 3.6 4G/A Red Lease Northeast Baltimore-Washington
          4/24/19 $12,600 20,527 3.3 4G/A Black Lease Midwest Milwaukee
          4/24/19 $11,600 20,996 2.5 4G/A Gray Lease Northeast New Jersey
          4/17/19 $11,200 22,582 2.4 4G/A Silver Lease Northeast New Jersey
          4/23/19 $11,100 25,109 2.5 4G/A Red Lease Southeast Orlando
          4/2/19 $13,100 26,434 4.5 4G/A Red Lease Midwest Ohio
          4/24/19 $13,600 27,339 4.5 4G/A Black Lease Southeast Nashville
          4/3/19 $13,500 27,584 4.2 4G/A Red Lease Southwest Dallas
          4/3/19 $12,400 27,585 4.3 4G/A White Lease Northeast New Jersey
          4/3/19 $13,300 28,238 4.5 4G/A Black Lease Southeast Nashville
          4/9/19 $12,000 28,324 2.8 4G/A Black Lease Southeast Orlando
          4/10/19 $12,800 30,182 3.6 4G/A Blue Lease Northeast New Jersey
          4/10/19 $12,200 30,446 3.8 4G/A – – Lease Northeast New Jersey
          4/17/19 $10,800 30,722 2.6 4G/A Black Lease Southeast Nashville
          4/3/19 $12,500 30,803 4.1 4G/A Brown Lease Southeast Nashville
          4/3/19 $12,400 30,968 4.5 4G/A White Lease Northeast

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            Okay so it looks like the clean cars (4.2+ let’s call it) are fetching $12,5 wholesale, tack on a few thousand and you’re right at what they’re listing them for (pre haggling) at many dealerships. The $19,5k was the advertised price at our local dealership online, when I sat with the guy at his desk for a few minutes he basically showed MSRP and then listed the big fat discounts Hyundai is throwing at these things.

            So I don’t think it’s quite so ruinous. I’d be more interested in retained value in a Camry vs a Hyundai at the 7 year mark. My wife’s 2012 SE with 85k miles still has a private party value (going off craigslist prices on clean titles cars with similar miles) of about $9-10k, something I’m quite pleased with.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Quote:

    According to the Automotive News Data Center, inventory stood at 4,188,200 vehicles on April 1st — the highest figure seen since July 2017 and perilously close to the all-time record set in 2004. Only 114,300 vehicles separates April’s tally from that high water mark.

    So, the all time record was in 2004. The financial crisis, and accompanying recession began 4 years later, in Aug/Sep 2008. FOUR YEARS after this important indicator (that helps AN sell views).

    April 2019 is close to July 2017. What happened after July 2017? Did auto sales fall of a cliff? NO. Sales have dropped a little, but transaction prices have risen.

    My whole adult life, America has been living beyond it’s means (using the federal deficit and national debt, our balance of trade deficit, private debt, and now we have a new one, college debt).

    Basically, we borrow money to obtain stuff that we can’t afford, and we get it from other countries because we apparently can’t make it.

    As I said, it’s been this way since the mid 1970s, when I was in grade school…

    IMO, the debt is real. We may not feel it (yet), but it’s like 200/120 blood pressure. Not good. The car inventory is small potatoes.

    As far as the glut of supply….well, I know the supply of Cruzes won’t be rising.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      I feel like the debt/deficit whatever you want to call it is not going to matter at all, until one day it suddenly will. Since I don’t know when that day will be, I choose to continue living my life. That being said, me and the Mrs. are pretty frugal people and are probably better prepared and more diversified than most.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    We have a Toyota dealership that has 2 or 3 huge lots within 1/2 mile of each other and they’re pretty well stuffed to the gills. Then there’s a not insignificant portion of our local mall’s parking lot that is dedicated to overflow.

    Seems to me the dealer model needs to shift. Each dealer could have 2 models of each vehicle on the show floor with popular options so people can feel around and see what they want, then there could be a couple testers with different powertrain options so buyers can decide if they like x or y engine. Then they sit down and order. There can be a small number of cars on hand to buy for those who’ve totaled their cars and can’t wait for a build. Then maybe the supply/demand graph wouldn’t be so skewed.

    • 0 avatar
      DedBull

      Isn’t this how the dealer model worked in the 50’s and 60’s, when every small town had a dealership and cars were built to order? Obviously this changed, for reasons unknown to me. In this world of instant gratification I don’t see this trend reversing until there is financial incentive to do so.

      One thing that might change this trend is an online ordering process that is actually completable. Everyone loves to play with configurations online, but at the end you’re stuck with a list of “almost what you want” at nearby dealers. If there was a more seamless way of ordering exactly what you want without intense pressure to “take what I have” it might lead to more custom orders and less lots choked with umpteen cars configured the exact same way.

      Volkswagen is trying the experiment with the “spektrum” program on the Golf R. Custom order the car you want in an array of non-standard colors. Pay a premium for the custom paint/custom order process. I wonder what the take rate on a process like this would be if offered on a more mainstream product.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        The “Dealer Model” is just there to enrich dealers. So that they can then befriend and donate to the campaigns of the politicians that fight tooth and nail against bypassing the Dealer Model.

        Doesn’t make all dealers “bad” or anything, but any time two transacting parties are straight up barred from bypassing some arbitrary third party, what you have is a racket. For the benefit of said third party. Not either of the two transacting parties.

        • 0 avatar
          hreardon

          Stuki –

          The dealer model benefits the factory more than the dealers. The dealers, however, were smart, got together and bought off the politicians to protect their turf. Not unlike the public unions (and I’m not saying that to toss a bomb into the conversation and turn it all political – it’s the same protection racket).

          And slavuta – going direct provides greater perceived consumer convenience, but it does not necessarily reduce prices. When Apple opened its direct sales and later retail models, thousands of Apple dealers around the world were put out of business fairly quickly and just about everyone started paying MSRP.

          Just as most people don’t negotiate jewelry, furniture, or high end clothing – if Americans are willing to forego the potential for lower prices for the sake of convenience, then higher prices is pretty much what will result.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenn

            “Just as most people don’t negotiate jewelry, furniture, or high end clothing…”
            We obviously don’t have to negotiate for those products because their prices can easily be found and compared, with the buyer able to simply choose the lowest-priced source. I have only antipathy for car dealers and their underhanded sales and service schemes and would welcome direct sales – even if the purchase price were higher.

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            You could be right. This is nasty business. Anything possible.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Get rid of dealer dealings. Manufacturer should set the price. Like iPhone. Like Tesla. What for do I need to go from one dealer to another? I just want to go to nearest one and sign up for a car and be done.

      • 0 avatar
        WalterRohrl

        Guess what? Your prayers have been answered. They now have this large paper thing on the side window that has the “MANUFACTURER Suggested Retail Price” on it in clear numbers. Most any dealer, including the nearest one to you would be very happy for you to come in and write a check for that exact amount and drive home today.

      • 0 avatar
        forward_look

        ….. like Saturn.

        My last car was a take-it-or-leave it price from Hertz. If I want to haggle I’ll go to the Parque Central in Antigua, Guatemala.

        • 0 avatar
          SoCalMikester

          scion xA here. $5000 down and another check for $94xx got me the title in the mail. no plans to get anything newer until the condo is paid off.

  • avatar
    downunder

    Never understood the American way of buying cars and having to rely upon the dealer having the car that you want in stock. I know it is to do with the desire to buy the vehicle of your choice and not have to wait for it to be built. Do the manufacturers put a premium on vehicles built “to order”? Yes, the importers here set the RRP but what the dealers do after that is their business. Most new cars on the Ford/Holden/Toyota/Mitusbishi et al dealership are a sample of what they offer. Very rarely do you buy something “off the floor”, and most vehicles are a 6 week wait. The downside is that you can wait up to 6 months for some euro vehicles, even if they are manufactured in Mexico or the USA.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “and having to rely upon the dealer having the car that you want in stock.”

      There is another way to interpret that American way of buying cars and trucks: “The greater the selection, the easier it is to make a match/sale.”

      That’s ONE reason why Autonation, et al, are taking over the dealership landscape, displacing the small mom&pop dealerships which varied widely in their fixed costs and markup for each vehicle.

      Oligarchy comes to mind when shopping at the nationwide networks. My brothers sold off to one of those nationwide giants, and, boy, did the prices on new and used vehicles on their lots skyrocket!

      It’s like telling the buyers, drop your pants, bend over and grab your ankles.

      • 0 avatar
        SoCalMikester

        i bought from autonation, since they were the only ones that had a 5spd in indigo ink pearl. i woulda went elsewhere, and it would have been the same price. nbd.

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    I will not comment on this deeply flawed system.
    I will use this information to develop a year-end buying strategy that significantly reduces my capital outlay.

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    At this rate, some enterprising auto dealer will try renting some of its inventory so the cars at least make them money then sell the cars used. That depends largely I suppose on whether the depreciation hit of selling the vehicles later is worth it.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    prices are high, interest rates are going up, wages are stagnant. everyones already paying off their $1000 phone and unlimited data plan, and their triple play “bargain bundle” on their rent to own 70″ flatscreen. gotta be able to eat out at least twice a day, too! not much money to spare any more for new cars with lousy credit :(

  • avatar
    cartunez

    Too many people are screwed with negative equity and or poor credit to keep playing the buy a new car game.


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