As New-Car Inventory Shrinks, What’s Left on Dealer Lots to Buy?

The past several months have been a time of unprecedented firsts thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic’s impact on every aspect of American life. But two things have significantly affected car buying in the U.S. in particular: All automotive manufacturing in North America shut down for more than two months, but— thanks to big incentives — car-buying behavior didn’t and demand dropped about only 50 percent.

Related: 10 Biggest Coronavirus Advice Stories for Car Shoppers and Owners

That’s led to a new situation, in which automakers are struggling to get plants back up and running to make more cars as inventory of popular models starts to dwindle on dealer lots. We in Cars.com’s Editorial department usually try to advise you on the best choice for a car you should buy, but now we find ourselves with the unusual task of trying to help you find out what cars are even available for you to buy. Thankfully, we have a massive network of dealers who tell us what’s on their lot and what’s not, and after a thorough look at the data, we can help point you to the vehicles most likely to be available, if you’re in imminent need of a new car, truck or SUV. 

Clockwise from left: 2019 GMC Canyon, 2019 Ford Ranger, 2020 Jeep Gladiator, 2019 Honda Ridgeline

Pickup Trucks: Almost Gone

First, the bad news: Inventory of all sizes of pickups has been significantly wiped out. Automakers have offered extraordinary deals on trucks since early March with spiffs like 0% financing for 84 months — and so you all went out and seriously bought some trucks.

But the manufacturing plants haven’t been running to replenish those inventories, so now we see all of the full-size pickups with half the number of trucks on lots that we did in early March, and some mid-size pickups facing even greater shortages. The Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado in particular are growing extremely scarce.

Which pickup models have dwindled the least versus three months ago? While most crew-cab style pickups are growing scarce, the regular-cab and extended-cab models aren’t quite as rare. The Chevrolet Silverado 2500 regular cab hasn’t seen inventory change much; neither has the Honda Ridgeline or the Ram 1500 Classic (that’s the old-style Ram 1500 crew cab that’s still in production, not the updated, redesigned model). If you’re in need of a new truck soon, those might be your best bets.

SUVs: The Import Brands Still Have Inventory

Crossovers and SUVs were the big sellers in the U.S. prior to the pandemic, and in this category there’s mixed results. The foreign brands seem to have significantly more inventory than domestic brands — possibly because imported models were on ships making the journey to the U.S. while domestic plants were shut down, or possibly because the demand for them was slower due to reduced incentives versus other segments.

SUVs overall have seen about a 20 percent reduction in inventory, but some popular models like the Toyota RAV4, Subaru Outback and Ford Explorer have seen a major supply crunch. What’s still in inventory that you’re likely to have an easier time finding? The Honda CR-V supply is down but still plentiful, while the Subaru Forester and Subaru Crosstrek actually have greater availability now than they did three months ago. The Kia Sportage is still plentiful, and a newcomer to the scene, the South Korean-built Buick Encore GX, has plenty of models on lots for you to go kick the tires.

Sedans: Plenty Before All This, Plenty Now

The traditional sedan classes were shrinking before the pandemic, and through the crisis their sales haven’t really changed much. As a result, some are just as plentiful on dealer lots now as they were three months ago, offering up a viable less-expensive alternative to buyers who might have wanted an SUV or crossover, but who might have trouble finding one to purchase this summer.

The mid-size-sedan class has seen inventory drops, however, with Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima supplies shrinking. But the compact and subcompact categories (which weren’t selling all that well before) still have plenty of inventory — the Volkswagen Jetta has seen its numbers climb, as have the Kia Forte, Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio.

Minivans: Not Many Left

If you’re in a family way and still prefer a minivan to an SUV, your best bet would be to seek out a Honda Odyssey. There are nearly twice as many Odysseys on dealer lots as there are Chrysler Pacificas — but inventory levels are down by at least 20 percent across the board on all minivan models. The Kia Sedona and Toyota Sienna both saw big drops in inventory, but both are also getting replacements in the near future.

2020 Honda CR-V

Hybrids: Take Your Pick

One area that has not seen a run on inventory is hybrids — all hybrids, whether cars, crossovers or SUVs. They’re generally more expensive than their mainstream counterparts, and with gas prices currently still pretty low, the impetus to spend that extra cash on one doesn’t seem to be there.

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid have seen their inventories climb, while the conventional versions have sold down stocks like crazy. The Lexus UX 250h and NX300h have more on hand now than they did three months ago. Toyota Prius inventory is nearly double what it was three months ago, while the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Toyota Corolla Hybrid, Honda Accord Hybrid and Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid all have more on hand.

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Two Tips for Buying During a Shortage

With a lot of dealers facing shortages of popular models, how can you simplify your search when hunting for a new car? There are a couple tips you can follow to take some of the stress out of the process.

1. Expand Your Online Search Area

You’re probably already hunting for a car online if you’re reading this on Cars.com, but you might need to expand the area encompassing your search. Different cars have different levels of demand in different parts of the country. If you find a car at a dealer that’s out of your area, it’s possible that they might be willing to work with a dealer closer to you to transfer the car to your preferred retailer. No guarantees, but it never hurts to try.

2. Call Before You Go

Found the vehicle you want at a nearby dealership? Contact them by phone before you get in the car to head over there. Popular models with low inventory are selling quickly, and sometimes the online listing hasn’t caught up with the reality on the lot. Calling instead of emailing also gets you a more immediate response, potentially letting you request that the dealer hold the car for you to come see it — if nobody’s already out driving it.

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

 
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