Surprisingly enough, this year is expected to be the best for domestic new car sales since 2006, the year before the recession began. The increase in buyer activity has been large enough that several car and light truck brands are virtually out of stock. These are a mix mostly of extremely expensive and very inexpensive cars. Heavy demand appears to be concentrated at both ends of the market.
Domestic car sales in 2005 and 2006 were above 16 million each year. Sales dropped below 9 million in 2009. This year, major car companies and automotive research firms expect U.S. vehicle sales to be nearly 13.5 million. While that does not approach the industry’s best years, car manufacturers have cut enough out of their factory and worker costs that most can now make money at the 13 million annual sales level.
Most years, a few car models are in short supply. This is because either a manufacturer underestimates demand or there is an interruption in supply because of manufacturing problems. This year, heavy demand appears to be concentrated among those who want inexpensive and fuel-efficient cars at one end, and those consumers for whom price and gas mileage are not much of a consideration.
The industry measurement of car supply is “days to turn,” or “days on the lot.” This is defined as the average number of days vehicles are in the inventory of all dealers that offer the car before they are sold during the month measured. The industry’s average is about 50 days when spread across a large car company’s national inventory at its dealers. Some unpopular vehicles can remain for as many as 120 days on the lot.
Using data from Edmunds to determine which cars were hardest for buyers to find in November, these are the cars “so hot” they are out of stock:
Configuration: 4 Cyl, 4 Door
The Elantra is one of a number of compact cars offered by most of the manufacturers. Its four-cylinder configuration allows it to get 40-mpg highway. The primary import vehicles the Elantra competes with are the Toyota Corolla, the Honda Civic and the Nissan Maxima. Hyundai has gained more market share in the U.S. over that past three years than any other manufacturer. The South Korean company blends low sticker prices with products that do well in most industry tests for reliability.
Configuration: Turbo 4 Cyl, 5 Door
The Q5 is among the crossover vehicles offered by the German luxury manufacturers. A turbo four-cylinder engine powers the base model. The turbo boosts performance to 211 bhp, a level normally found in a V-6. Features beyond the base model can drive the sticker price above $50,000. Audi has done particularly well in the U.S. in the past year, taking market share from BMW, Mercedes and most other imports. Audi’s global sales have also surged, and were up 18 percent to 1.1 million in the first 10 months of this year.
Configuration: 4 Cyl — 16 Valve, 5 Door
The Kia Soul is one of the lowest priced five-door crossovers sold in the U.S. Its single largest competitor is the Nissan Cube. Highway MPG is estimated at 35. The Soul is one of the inexpensive cars and light trucks that have helped Kia, a division of Hyundai, to grow rapidly in the U.S. The manufacturer sold more than 442,000 vehicles in the U.S. through November compared to 325,000 in the same period last year—an increase of 36 percent.
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Configuration: 6-Cyl Hybrid, AWD 5-Door
Toyota has had trouble keeping many of its popular vehicles in stock because of sharp drops in production caused by the Japan earthquake and tsunami in March. Other Toyotas in short supply include the base Highlander, the RAV 4 SUV and the mid-sized four-door Camry. Overall demand for hybrids in the U.S. has risen with the price of gasoline, which soared to nearly $4 per gallon of regular earlier this year.
Configuration: 4 Cyl, 4 Door
The Accent is Hyundai’s low-priced four-door. Along with other Hyundai models and those of sister company Kia, it has become part of highly popular lines of cars and light trucks from the South Korean manufacturer that had almost no presence in the U.S. five years ago. The Accent competes with the Honda FIT and Ford Fiesta. It gets 40 mpg on the highway. The car is an entry-level vehicle for shoppers who want an extremely low-price, high gas mileage car with a reasonable reputation for quality.
Configuration: 6-Cyl, 5 Door-SUV
The M-Class is Mercedes’s standard SUV. “Fully loaded” with options, the vehicle sells for more than $70,000. Competition for the M-Class includes the BWW X5, the high-end Audi Q5 and the luxury SUVs made by Lexus, Cadillac and Lincoln. 2011 has been an extraordinary year for Mercedes in the U.S.
Total sales through November were higher by 46 percent compared to 2010. The entire luxury end of the car and light truck market in the U.S. has held up well, despite a spotty economy.
Configuration: 4-Cyl Boxer Engine, 5-Door
The Outback is the crossover model from the only Japanese manufacturer that has four-wheel drive transmissions across its entire fleet of cars and light trucks. The Outback gets 27 mpg highway despite its relatively powerful 170 bhp engine. The vehicle has gotten extremely good reviews and is one of the top cars recommended by Consumer Reports. The Outback is designed Among other things, the Outback is designed for the driver who wants high gas mileage.
(24/7 Wall St./The Blaze)