We didn’t think so. As fuel prices rise, interest in large suvs wanes. That’s been a fact for awhile, and it continues to define automotive sales as domestic automakers go through the painful process of lowering their inventory, cutting their losses and reconfiguring their lineups into something that competes well with import brands such as Toyota and Honda.
It’s not pretty.
Unless, of course, you happen to be in the market for a large SUV or truck. If that’s the case, it’s downright gorgeous. Just mosey on down to your local Ford or Chevy store and ask about rebates on their large SUVs. For the rest of us, getting a good deal is a bit tougher, and will continue to be, as several conflicts in the Middle East – along with our increased demand – are driving up gas prices and sharpening interest in fuel economy. In essense: we all want the same thing, so why would automakers cut the price on their most efficient vehicles? That's true...but there are some deals to be had outside of the gas guzzler giveaways. Sadly, big SUVs aren't the only cars domestic auto brands have had trouble selling -- there's still plenty of Ford and Chevy sedans available. General Motors, for one, is getting ready to launch a new discount program across most of its model lines to clear some of these excess cars. But instead of employee pricing, the emphasis is now on finance rates. According to a number of automotive journals, car shoppers are most interested in low financing because standard rates are rising, and many are selecting the low rate deal over the rebate. As a result, automakers are responding: starting soon and lasting at least throughout the summer, GM will offer zero percent financing on most of its 2006 models – with an astounding 72 month zero percent offer on large trucks and SUVs. It’s all part of the “Big Three” sales hangover from the employee pricing party they had last year, so look for Ford and Chrysler to follow with better deals on financing than on cash back. Indeed, Ford’s earlier Drive On Us program tipped the company’s hand as to what car buyers can expect: zero percent offers combined with a $1,000 debit card. The most pressing challenge for domestic brand automakers is inventory: reports indicate unsold levels as high as 99 days. That’s music to a car buyer’s pocketbook, to be sure, so take a good hard look at some of more decent vehicles available at Chrysler, Ford or GM: dealers may be really motivated to negotiate.
Import brands, meanwhile, are worried less about moving unsold inventory then selling outgoing models -- not that they're having trouble doing that. Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai are selling cars briskly – reports show around a 30 day unsold list -- so the best deals to be hand seem to be on outgoing models, such as the 2006 Honda CR-V. One potential area of advantage for car shoppers, however, is with the mid-level imports: as more niche models come onto the market, smaller automakers are finding themselves competing against heavyweights in smaller markets. Subaru, for example, currently has several good deals on very capable vehicles, so a smart shopper would look carefully at non-mainstream brands – there may be deals to be had on unsold inventory.