U.S. light-vehicle sales are forecast to rebound from September to a 16.85 million seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) this month.

However, October sales will not come close to matching year-ago’s results, when the industry responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with 0% financing and deliveries rocketed to an any-month high SAAR of 21.2 million on heavy volume of more than 1.7 million units.

Sales are forecast at 1.42 million units, for a daily selling rate of 52,593 (27 selling days), 20.6% below year-ago’s 66,214 (26 days). (view related data: Ward's October 2002 Inventory Forecast)

September’s 16.32 million SAAR would have been better if not for overall low inventory at General Motors Corp. and a shortage of ’02 models in particular at GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group.

But thanks to better incentives than in September and a rising inventory of ’03 models, October should mark an improvement.

Looking further out, Ward’s expects the fourth quarter to record a 16.82 million SAAR and the year to end at 16.88 million units. November is likely to improve on October as long as the economy does not show signs of a slowdown and cause declining consumer confidence to erode automotive sales.

November also should benefit by comparison due to the small negative impact on October sales expected from the 10-day lockout of West Coast dockworkers that hampered production and left some imported vehicles stranded offshore.

Inventory on the whole is at a good level, but dealers are light on SUVs and large pickups, which enjoy strongest demand during the fourth quarter.

Sept. 30 SUV inventory is down 13.6% from year-ago, while large pickups are off by 14.0%.

There is a good supply of midsize cars for this time of year, a possible indication that delivery to rental fleets is about to pick up. Inventory for that segment group is up 4.6% from year-ago and heavily weighted on lower-priced vehicles, especially at General Motors Corp. (Pontiac Grand Am and Saturn L Series, in particular).

But in the upper level there is a surplus compared with year-ago, particularly of Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus, Nissan Altima and Maxima, and Toyota Camry models. Notably, inventory of the Honda Accord, redesigned for ’03, is down nearly 18% from a year ago.

Overall, light-vehicle inventory ended September at 3.014 million units, 3.6% below like-2001. Days’ supply was at 57, compared with 47 the prior month and 61 a year ago.

The Ward’s forecast for Oct. 31 light-vehicle inventory is 3.257 million units, 13.6% above year-ago. It’s a major turnaround from September, when inventories ran below year-earlier levels.

But that’s understandable considering October 2001’s unexpected sales surge that depleted stocks. Days’ supply is forecast at 62, compared to same-month 2001’s 43. (view related data: Ward's October 2002 Sales Forecast)