Stronger incentives are playing a bigger role in keeping sales at year-ago levels, as automakers fight to maintain market share. As they near the end of another model year, dealers have more inventory to unload compared to like-1999. Further fueling the incentive fire is that higher mix of '00 models on dealer lots.

Dealer inventories at the end of July stood at 3.34 million vehicles, 16.1% above year-ago and equal to a 58 days' supply.

July 1999's days' supply was 50. Inventories of domestically produced light vehicles alone were 2.88 million this year (61 days' supply), 15.3% above last year's 2.50 million (52 days).

Import July inventories were up 21%, but that brought the days' supply up only three days, to 46.

Inventory for the end of August was forecasted at 3.43 million units, or a 60 days' supply, according to an analysis by Ward's Automotive Reports.

That volume would be 16.6% above August 1999's total, and the days' supply would be well above last year's 52.

August inventories of domestically made light vehicles alone were forecasted at 3.02 million, 17.1% above year-ago, with a 64 days' supply compared to last year's 54.