The purpose of the Internet is to make information free. That much is clear by now. And nowhere has it had a bigger impact than the once-secretive auto industry. Two decades ago, car shoppers walked into dealerships with the deck stacked against them -- the dealer had all the best information, and if the buyer had really done his homework, he might have an idea of what the invoice price of the car was. Maybe.
Today, you can get an invoice for free on dozens of websites (though we'd advise you not to trust them all), and if you want to be the buyer who has really done his homework, you can get a TrueCar price report (it's just a few clicks in the right hand column of all of our reviews) and find out what people in your area have been paying for the exact trim level you're interested in.
There's still one industry metric, though, that few car shoppers seem to know about -- and we're on a mission to make it well-known. It's called "days of inventory." It's how automakers measure the success of a model. They compare the rate at which a car is selling to the number they have backlogged and the rate at which they are building them, and generate an estimate of how many days it would take to sell out of a particular model if they stopped building it today.
Every automaker has its own goals and formulas, but a good rule-of-thumb is to say that the target is 90 days. More than that, and automakers have overbuilt, and need to start slashing prices to move the metal. Fewer, and they're missing out on sales as buyers can't find the color and feature combination they're looking for. Automakers hate to have too few of a car.
Dealers, however, don't mind so much. They can charge full price for a vehicle that's hard to find.
Automakers have gotten much better at handling their inventory in the current economic climate, but there are still miscues -- cars they have to discount because they have too many, and cars dealers are selling at full price because they've built too few.
Today, we'll warn you about a few of the high-priced, hard-to-find models:
2011 Honda Odyssey -- 4 days of inventory
The minivan wars were on hold for a long time, as American automakers pulled out of the market entirely, Nissan went on a two-year hiatus, and Honda and Toyota let their best-selling minivans sit without an update. That's not true anymore. There's a redesigned Toyota Sienna on the market, and an all-new Honda Odyssey to match it. And though you won't find a new Ford Windstar anytime soon, the Nissan Quest will be back before you know it. The new rides are fantastic, with sedan-like handling, coach-bus-like interior room and more storage cubbies than a Container Store. But they're still so new to the market that they're hard to find. If you're considering a new Odyssey, we'd advise you to fix up the old one and hold out a few months. Right now there are so few in the U.S. that your chances of finding the one you want and negotiating a fair deal on it are pretty slim.