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Consumers Uncertain How to Finance Next Auto Purchase, Says GDNAuto

September 24, 2008

ALAMO, Calif. and LOS ANGELES – With the credit crisis at full tilt and new car leasing programs on the endangered species list, consumers are uncertain how they will finance their next auto purchase – and a substantial number may opt out of the new car market, buy a less expensive new car or a used vehicle, or postpone their purchase entirely, according to a Global Debt Network Automotive.

These are among the findings of a new nationwide survey of 1,000 consumers conducted by market researcher Synovate of Chicago for Global Debt Network Automotive, a nationwide online loan portfolio marketplace where automobile dealers, banks, credit unions, hedge funds and other financial institutions can come together to securely evaluate, price, sell and purchase asset-backed debt.

In response to the question, "The auto leasing business has experienced a shake-out of late: What do you plan to do if leasing becomes less available to you?" Thirty-seven percent of respondents said the recent sharp decline in new-car leasing programs may cause them to select a used car instead (19 percent), postpone their auto purchase for the time being (11 percent), or purchase a less expensive new car (7 percent).

Twenty-one percent of those surveyed said they would consider purchasing rather than leasing their car of choice, while only 2 percent reported they would pursue obtaining a new car lease from an alternative source, such as a finance company, bank or credit union. Almost 40 percent said they were uncertain how the shake-out in auto leasing might affect their auto purchase plans.

"The survey confirms what we've been hearing in the marketplace: that American consumers are uncertain how they will finance their next automobile and this uncertainty is causing them to consider a variety of options, including buying a less expensive new car, a used car, or postponing a purchase until conditions are more favorable," said Michael Sheridan, founder and president of GDNAuto. "Although these results are bad news for car manufacturers and lenders who have discontinued popular leasing programs, and for the new car dealers who have relied on these programs to boost sales, there is a tremendous opportunity for used car dealers and lenders to grow their business by introducing financing options that will have broad appeal to low- and moderate-income consumers being driven in growing numbers to used car lots."

More than 40 million used cars are sold in the U.S. each year. That number is expected to skyrocket thanks to a soft economy, higher gas prices and fewer new-car leasing programs. Until recently, leases accounted for 55 percent of total new car sales at Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz, 43 percent at Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus and 42 percent at General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac, according to JD Power.

Among the survey's other key findings:

Forty-three percent of women are uncertain about their course of action in response to the auto leasing drought, compared with 36 percent of men. Of those who are more certain of a specific course of action, women are marginally less likely than men (19 percent to 24 percent) to purchase the same car they might otherwise have leased, or to purchase a used car (17 percent, vs. 24 percent of men).

Almost 20 percent of those 65 and older expect to postpone an auto purchase. At the opposite end of the age scale, consumers ages 18-24 are the least likely (11 percent) to buy the same new car they otherwise would have leased, and 14 percent of that age group say they probably will purchase a less expensive new car. Survey respondents ages 25-34 are the most likely to buy a new car (25 percent) even if a lease isn’t an option, while used cars are the most attractive option for the 35-44 age group (22 percent). Even so, 45 percent of this age group reports they are uncertain how to proceed.

When it comes to buying vs. leasing the same car, household income is powerfully correlated with consumer expectations. Those with yearly incomes of less than $25,000 virtually ruled out the purchase option (2.2 percent), while that prospect grows as income rises: 15 percent of those in the $25,000-$50,000 bracket, 24 percent of those earning $50,000 to $75,000, and 34 percent of those earning more than $75,000 annually. Those in the $25,000-$50,000 bracket are marginally more likely to opt for a used car or to postpone the decision altogether. Those earning less than $25,000 recorded the highest level of uncertainty of any demographic in the survey (52 percent).

Fully 47 percent of respondents from the South say they are uncertain about the best course of action, which may be why only 15 percent said they would be likely to purchase rather than lease a new car. Those in the Midwest are most likely to purchase rather than lease (27 percent), while those in the South are least likely to do so (15 percent). Those in the West are least likely to go the used car route (14 percent) and most likely to forgo the transaction entirely (15 percent).

Consumers employed full-time are most likely to purchase rather than lease the same car (25 percent), but the self-employed are least likely to do so (14.5 percent). Interestingly, retirees are as inclined to buy the car they originally had in mind as those employed full-time (22 percent), but are also relatively more likely to sit out the transaction (15 percent).

The greater the level of education, the greater the likelihood that a consumer will purchase a new car when leasing isn’t an option. Of those reporting at least some post-graduate education, 37 percent say they would buy a new car even if a lease isn’t available, vs. 21 percent of those with some college or a degree, and 13 percent of those with high school or less. Some 44 percent of that last group said they were unsure about how to proceed.

The GDNAuto/Synovate survey has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

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