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AutoTrader.com: Consumers Shift Focus Toward Trucks, SUVs

July 12, 2011

ATLANTA — AutoTrader.com's June Trend Engine report indicated that trucks and SUVs have gained consumer interest since May and that interest in compact cars is starting to subside.

Slightly lowering gas prices are likely a contributing factor to the rising interest in larger vehicles and the declining interest in more fuel-efficient models, according to the report. Consumers shopping on the site started considering more fuel-efficient models when gas prices hit the $3.50 mark. Now that prices are heading back toward that threshold, they appear to be returning to trucks and SUVs.

Consumer interest in big trucks is already increasing, especially in the new-vehicle segment, with the Dodge Ram 1500, Ford F-250 and the Chevrolet Silverado 2500 all moving up on the most-searched vehicles list in June.

The new Ford F-250, the largest of the full-size trucks, showed the most significant gains as it moved up five spots to No. 13 on a month-to-month basis. The Chevrolet Silverado 2500 also moved up six spots to No. 18.

Demand for both vehicles was revealed in the increase in asking price, as the F-250's price increased 8.2 percent and the Silverado 2500's price increased 10.6 percent on a year-over-year basis.

On the list of most-searched used vehicles, the used Ford F-150 reclaimed the No. 1 spot, while the used Chevrolet Silverado 1500 moving up one spot to No. 3. The used Ford F-250 moved up two spots to No. 6, while the used Chevrolet Silverado 2500 moved up four spots to No. 13.

Average asking prices for the majority of used trucks dropped less than 5 percent on a year-over-year basis. One exception was the Toyota Tacoma, which gained 8.6 percent in average asking price on a year-over-year basis.

In the certified pre-owned (CPO) category, the CPO Ford F-150 moved up two spots on a month-over-month basis to land at No. 10. Its average asking price increased 6.1 percent. The CPO Toyota Tundra moved up one spot to No. 4. Its average asking price increase 5.5 percent.

SUVs across the most-searched lists for new, used and CPO vehicles also garnered notable interest from consumers, according to the report. On the new list, the new Jeep Wrangler moved up two spots to No. 4 on a month-over-month basis, and the new Ford Explorer moved up one spot to No. 11.

Both vehicles also showed a year-over-year increase in asking price, with the new Ford Explorer showing the biggest increase of 10.6 percent. The list of most-searched used cars showed a similar pattern, with the used Jeep Wrangler moving up two spots to No. 5, the used Chevrolet Tahoe moving up four spots to No. 10 and the used Jeep Grand Cherokee moving up one spot to No. 18. With the exception of the used Tahoe, the other two SUVs showed an increase in average asking price on a year-over-year basis.

Of the six SUVs on the list of most-searched CPO vehicles, four held their position on the list on a month-over-month basis. One vehicle moved down one spot and the rest moved up. The CPO Jeep Wrangler moved up five spots to No. 20 and the CPO Chevrolet Tahoe moved up two spots to No. 9. The Acura MDX, the only luxury SUV on the list, showed a slight decrease in average asking price on a year-over-year basis, but the rest of the SUVs posted increases in this area.

The Toyota Highlander had the biggest average asking price increase of 11 percent and the Toyota 4 Runner came in second for price increases with a 9 percent year-over-year jump.

With the rise in gas prices earlier in the year, consumers held out as long as possible before turning their eyes toward the small car segments, according to the report. The steady decline in gas prices through June gave used-car shoppers enough confidence to begin diverting their attention from this segment.

Compact cars and small luxury cars on the list of most-searched used cars all declined in their position on a month-over-month basis. The year-over-year average asking prices for those vehicles rose, however.

The used BMW 3-Series dropped one spot to No. 2, the used Honda Civic dropped three spots to No. 8, the used Audi A4 dropped three spots to No. 16 and the Volkswagen Jetta dropped four spots to No. 20.  

The luxury used smaller cars on the list showed year-over-year increases in their average asking prices, with the BMW 3-Series increasing 4.6 percent and the Audi A4 increasing 1.2 percent. The non-luxury compacts posted the biggest increases in average asking price, as the Honda Civic's price rose 10.9 percent on a year-over-year basis and the Volkswagen Jetta's price rose 10.3 percent.

Interest in smaller CPO cars also showed slight declines, as two of the four smaller cars on the list remained steady on a month-over-month basis while the other two dropped in position. The CPO BMW 3-Series and the CPO Honda Civic did not move on the list, but the CPO Audi A4 dropped one spot to land at No. 5, while the Volkswagen Jetta dropped three spots to No. 12.

Average asking price increases for the more affordable smaller CPO cars outpaced those in the luxury segment, according to the report. The asking price for the Honda Civic rose 10 percent and the asking price for the Volkswagen Jetta rose 7.9 percent on a year-over-year basis.

The increases in average asking prices for used and CPO cars are consistent with the industry-wide trend of these cars commanding higher prices in the face of limited availability of quality pre-owned vehicles, according to the report.

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