Auto Sales to Shrink after Clunkers program Expires

With all the hoopla over the “Cash for Clunkers” program in terms of helping dealers move a large quantity of autos new autos and some additional used car inventory for shoppers who could not meet the program’s requirements, the auto segment has clearly enjoyed year over year sales improvements.  The C for C program in August is private-party used sales.  That is from the latest analysis from CNW Research.

It is interesting that no media analysis has ever told the tale of the “unintended consequences” of the destruction of more than a quarter million used cars, especially older models that would have gone to charity or been sold on the private party market.   It’s an obvious benefit to the new dealers, that’s for sure.  This creates the supply shortage, especially for lower prices cars resulting in the remaining cars left on dealer lots to increase the sales price.  Since demand has remained strong, at least for the first few days and possibly weeks, it would have forced the average prices to increase because the least expensive cars and trucks were being removed from the overall inventory available.

Owners of vehicles that didn’t qualify for the clunker program reverted to their original intent and sold the cars and trucks private party, according to Art Spinella, president of CNW Research.   Specifically, private used-vehicle sales are expected to total 1.214 million in August, a 1.5-percent improvement from a year ago. Meanwhile, franchised dealers are expected to move 1.417 million used units, a 0.5-percent decline, and independents are likely to sell 1.246 million used cars, a 0.4-percent upswing.

Cash for Clunkers affected the new side of the market. According to his analysis, at the mid-point of July, new-vehicle sales were on pace to have a 22.2-percent year-over-year decline.  However, the heavy promotion and coverage of CARS helped to lift new-vehicle sales to 997,572 units for the month, which was down less than 13 percent from July 2008.   The “bounce” in floor traffic at the end of July continued through the first two weeks of August, and this helped multiple areas of the industry, according to Spinella.  First, it drew more ‘lookers’ who weren’t even planning to buy a car or truck. It’s been more than two years since analysts have seen any appreciable increase share of floor traffic consisting of long-term shoppers (those who don’t expect to buy a vehicle for at least a year,) and second, it exposed Cash for Clunker buyers and general consumers to other models, which had a positive overall effect in sales.  There were many benefits for dealerships’ F&I, parts and service operations, as well as for salespeople in general.  I suppose all those who got a subsidy are pleased.

So now what?  Frankly, as it has been observed by others, that dealers have been taking early sales from 2010 expected revenues.  This has driven up prices, while the big 3 have increased production.  What should we expect next?  In my opinion, expect a spiraling drop in sales through the balance of the year, picking up some first quarter 2010.  Shoppers will clearly delay purchases until more signs of a stable economy are seen and their jobs are not threatened.  At some point the auto loan marketplace is going to rebound.  I am looking forward to lenders getting back into the game and providing some service again.