Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Consumer Interest in Larger Autos Continues to Rise as Gas Prices Fall

/PRNewswire/ -- Larger vehicles continued to see increases in views across AutoTrader.com as gas prices fell to around $1.60 nationally. The new Ford F-150 led the way with the most overall views of any new vehicle on AutoTrader.com during the month of December, enjoying an increase of 23.03% from December 2007. The new Dodge Ram also gained in consumer interest, with an increase of views of 43.16% year-over-year. This rise in interest for these two full-size pick-ups came partially at the expense of their chief competitors, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, which were down 12.64% and 2.73% year-over-year, respectively.

Consumers also researched dealership inventories on other large SUVs and minivans such as the Honda Pilot and Honda Odyssey, which saw increases in views of 129.63% and 60.46%, respectively, as well as large family sedans including the Chevrolet Impala and Honda Accord, which were up 32.11% and 27.13%.

Asking prices for most new vehicles on AutoTrader.com generally rose during the month of December, which at first seems counterintuitive considering the sluggish economy and rising manufacturer incentives. However, among consumers who are shopping for a new vehicle, many are opting for less- expensive, less well-optioned cars and trucks, leaving dealerships with better-optioned, more expensive inventory. With most manufacturers now scheduling production stoppages to better match the overall supply of vehicles available with consumer demand, dealers are not as quickly replenishing their inventories of these lower-priced vehicles.

"Consumers have reached new levels of concern about the current state of the economy, a fact reflected in the sales numbers we have seen since October," said AutoTrader.com President and CEO Chip Perry. "At the same time, we are seeing new-car shoppers making every dollar count by spending increased time on-line looking at a larger selection of vehicles to find the right car or truck at the right price."

Used Vehicles Continue Price Drops

Used vehicle prices and research levels showed drops across the board, in line with the current economic mood of the nation. Bright spots included the Chevrolet Tahoe, which saw a fraction of a percentage point increase in views year over year; the Jeep Wrangler, which saw a 6.34% jump compared to December 2007, and the Toyota Tundra, which recorded a 10.42% increase.

"Just as with new cars, used vehicles are also suffering due to consumers' economic fears," said Perry. "However, just as with those new vehicles, great deals are available for the asking for shoppers looking to buy a used vehicle in the New Year."

Perry remains optimistic that automobile sales will begin to revive in 2009. In the short term, Federal bailout money flowing into the financial sector should make credit more available. Tight credit has been a major impediment for those buyers who were in-market for a new or used vehicle, limiting vehicle sales to buyers with the highest credit scores or significant down payments. Aggressive moves in pricing and incentives by manufacturers and dealers looking to move existing inventory off of lots, combined with increased access to financing, should help sales into 2009.

In the longer-term, Federal bailout money will allow the Detroit manufacturers to retool their factories and balance sheets, with an eye towards future development.

"Shoppers considering a vehicle purchase in 2009 need to know that credit is available," said Perry. "And for many people who put off a vehicle purchase because of economic uncertainty or because of tight credit, there is pent up demand. This is illustrated by the fact that our unique visitor traffic was up about 20% in December of this year compared to December of last year. So people are definitely on-line looking at vehicles, considering their options, building their consideration sets and figuring out what they can afford. I do believe with a new year, easier access to financing and this pent up demand, we should start seeing some positive movement in auto sales in 2009."

AutoTrader.com is the ultimate automotive marketplace with over 3.5 million vehicle listings. Using research gathered by studying the shopping habits of over 14 million unique monthly visitors to the site, many of whom are in-market shoppers looking to complete a vehicle purchase within the next 90 days, AutoTrader.com regularly compiles this data to offer insight into current and emerging sales trends in the automobile industry.

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