June 10, 2022
‘Not normal’ high prices, low availability challenge car shoppers
Chris O'Neill

It’s not unusual to see empty space on new car lots along Bellingham’s Iowa Street these days, as the auto industry deals with the effects of pandemic-shutdown factory issues.

June 10, 2022
‘Not normal’ high prices, low availability challenge car shoppers
Chris O'Neill

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In a semi-post-pandemic world, many businesses are suffering from factory shutdowns, chip shortages and inflation. The automotive market is no exception.

“I have employees here who have been working in the car business for 20 to 30 years and they’ve never seen anything like this,” said Morocco Safouane, new car sales manager at Honda of Bellingham. “A used vehicle, at this time is appreciating, which is not normal.” 

Safouane sees the principle of supply and demand as the driver behind soaring prices, blaming production issues and choked supply chains. 

“These vehicles take a long time to go through the process to be assigned and shipped to a dealer. We have cars that have been released to us, but they have not been delivered to us,” Safouane said. “As far as production and all the vehicles on the market right now, we’ve fallen so far behind that it’s hard to catch up that quickly.”

Going up … and up

Private markets on sources such as Craigslist.org and Cargurus.com reflect appreciating costs of used cars seemingly regardless of how many miles are on the odometer.

“I’ve been looking in the used and new car market for about three or four months now,” said Tyler Brown, Western undergraduate and resident of Bellingham. “I’ve been seeing cars that are usually worth $3,000 going for $8,000.”

Brown blamed his current car payments as his reason for seeking a cheaper alternative. “At this point I’ve been paying around $660 per month,” Brown said. “My share of the rent is $635 a month.”

Brown suspected that many of the prices he was seeing on the private market were being further inflated past the current market highs, suggesting sellers were taking advantage of those in need of vehicles. In a February 2022 article, the car buying/review web platform Edmunds.Com reported that eight out of 10 of car shoppers paid above sticker price for new vehicles in January.

At stake: Lightning

Auto manufacturers including GM and Ford sent out letters warning dealerships to refrain from similar practices back in early January. 

A letter from Andrew Frick, Ford vice president of U.S. and Canada sales, warned participating dealerships that if such practices continued, Ford could recall the offending dealerships’ Ford F-150 Lightning allocations — currently the manufacturer’s top seller. The letter also requested that dealerships ask buyers to sign a no-resell agreement, in an attempt to reduce scalping.

The “punishment” of recalling the best-seller Lightning allocations might well be taken seriously by dealerships: the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) starts at just over $41,000 and can run to around $93,000, depending on trim.

A letter from Steve Carlisle, President of GM North America, addressed dealerships that have attempted to demand money above and beyond the reservation amounts set in GM’s program rules or have requested customers to pay sums far in excess of the MSRP to purchase or lease a vehicle.  GM also threatened to revoke rights to inventory promised to offending dealerships.

Safouane said he understands customers’ frustration on encountering prices higher than the MSRP and said his dealership has developed new strategies to accommodate higher purchase prices. “We have more trade-in offers as well as utilizing a lot more trade-in-for-buying,” Safouane said. “We’re willing to pay more for a car because we need what you have.”

“We currently have more used vehicles available than new,” said Safouane.

If you’re looking to sell, the market is most certainly on your side right now. Trade-ins for new purchases are a close second, as far as favorable positions. However, if you’re in need of a brand-new vehicle, the unfortunate reality is that you may be subject to record-high prices and long wait times depending on the make and model you’re trying to purchase. Without something to trade, the best plan may be to weather the storm until prices level out — though how long that may be remains an unanswered question.

“As far as changes on the horizon, unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to be back to normal like everybody would like anytime soon,” Safouane said.

— Reported by Chris O’Neill

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