Yet another story we have been following for nearly two years (and here) has finally migrated over to the Mainstream Media as attempts to hush it down before it become painfully obvious and problematic, have failed miserably. The WSJ writes that "Detroit auto makers are piling up big stocks of passenger cars at dealers despite brisk new-vehicle sales in the U.S.—a problem that executives vowed to avoid since their painful downturn three years ago."
General Motors Co. GM -0.39% ended November with enough Malibu sedans and Camaro sports cars to last more than five months at the current rate of sales. Ford Motor Co. F -0.88% had more than four months' worth of Fiesta subcompacts and Chrysler Group LLC had a nearly six month stock of its 2013 Dodge Dart.
It's an abrupt reversal from a year ago. In 2011, U.S. auto makers' market shares, especially in compact cars, soared as gasoline prices jumped and Japanese auto makers struggled with back-to-back natural disasters. This year, production at Toyota Motor Corp. 7203.TO -0.28% and Honda Motor Co. 7267.TO -0.66% came roaring back. Both began offering deeper sales incentives, something they hadn't done for many years. That has the Detroit Three in a quandary: Do they cut production or match incentives?
"They [the Japanese auto makers] really had to get aggressive about getting their market share back and maybe that did catch some by surprise or even flat-footed," said Edmunds.com automotive analyst Michelle Krebs. Toyota and Honda "have a lot of zero-percent financing" rates.
"Look at the ads, you see a lot of zero, zero, zero," she said. Edmunds.com also estimates that 38% of Toyota-financed sales last month carried interest-free loan rates.
GM also miscalculated demand for its pickup trucks. The industry norm for U.S. auto makers is between 60 days and 70 days of sales in inventory. GM had 138 days worth of Chevrolet Silverados at the start of this month. In passenger cars, its Chevrolet Cruze inventory jumped to 64,390 vehicles or 96 days. One of the two plants that GM will idle this month produces the Cruze.
"We thought the economy would have been further along at this point but as we look into December and 2013, we will get a tailwind from housing which benefits not only autos but the entire economy," said GM spokesman Jim Cain. "The one thing we won't do is commit the sins of the past and lose our discipline around rental cars and incentives. Our competitors may be doing it, but we have come too far to go backward and do something that may hurt our brands."
In other words: the disconnect between reality and hope has struck once more, and sadly for the optimists and those who specialize in budgeting hockeysticks, reality wins once again.
The WSJ does add some incremental value by observing the substantial, margin collapsing rebates all carmakers are forced to provide just to get inventory out of the door:
Toyota's average incentive per vehicle rose to $2,075 in November from $1,717 in January, according to automotive tracking firm TrueCar.com. Zero percent interest rates aren't counted in TrueCar's incentives tally.
Honda, meanwhile, has increased its average incentive to $2,428 from $1,978 in February despite releasing new versions of its top selling cars in the past year. The largest incentives offered in the U.S. last month were from Japan's Nissan Motor Co., 7201.TO +0.39% whose Altima has become a top selling sedan. Its average jumped to $4,273 a vehicle last month from $2,764 in January.
That is not to say the U.S. auto makers aren't also using incentives. Ford now offers as much as $2,895 off its 2013 Focus sedan, which had only two months' of inventory to start the month. Fiat SpA's F.MI -0.51% Chrysler has offered up to $5,000 off its Ram pickups, which had 3.5 months of inventory to start the month. GM has recently offered between $2,900 and $3,500 in average incentives for its vehicles, according to Truecar.com.
Producing too many cars and trucks is a problem the U.S. auto makers have wrestled with since the late 1970s. To keep their factories humming, GM, Ford and Chrysler would build vehicles and stock them at pop-up parking lots created on vacant land throughout the Detroit area. When the stocks grew onerous, they would unleash heavy incentives that eroded profitability and brand image.
Today, all three face tough decisions on cutting production or profitability as inventories have soared. Ford, for instance, finished November with 18,336 unsold Fiestas, or 124 days worth of supply, compared with 96 days in October.
The Dart, Chrysler's most important new offering of the year and its first compact sedan since 2005, began December with a 173 day supply. Sales of the Dart slipped in November compared with the previous two months.
And the punchline: all this is happening even as captive lending units, either standalone or government owned (ahem Ally, aka soon to be fully-GMAC once more) are lending money hand over fist to anything with a pulse as LTVs are back over 100% once more, and the average FiCo score of car loan borrowers is now arguably lower than where it was back in 2007.
In summary - wondering why GM is set for another inevitable bankruptcy and bail out? Here's why: