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Friday, August 19, 2016

Durable Goods and Used Car Prices


Elizabeth Platt, May 2016. Reposted from the Econ 244 site.

As discussed in class, an automobile value depreciates as soon as it’s driven off the lot. A recent study using iSeeCars.com puts a number to that depreciation. Analyzing 15.7 million cars over the course of the year, the study finds the average car value loss is 17% of its value in the first year. However, individual models differ in their value loss. At the top of the spectrum, the Hyundai Genesis loses 38.2% of its value in the first year.

The study cites demand as a function of reliability, popularity compared to competitors, dependability, repair costs, and redesigns. Thus, many of the factors the study believes determine demand cannot be estimated until at the time of the purchase, making resale value more difficult to gage. The drop in value after the first year corresponds to a potential savings of $16,000 if the consumer purchases a slightly used model. Consumers have the option of buying a new car with little knowledge of its reliability or waiting a year to purchase a slightly used car with more information in one hand and savings in the other. One significant part of demand, though, is aesthetics. By waiting for a slightly used car, the consumer runs the risk the manufacturer may introduce a newer model. In a society centered on “keeping up with the Jones,” newer models make the option of a slightly used model unappealing to some consumers. On the other hand, not all cars depreciate at this magnitude, making a slightly used model less of a deal. The study found some models lose less than 10%, such as the Subaru Impreza which lost just 3% of its value in the first year. In the end, knowledge concerning the difference in value of a new and a used car can be extremely beneficial for the consumer.

UsedCarsSource: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/get-there/wp/2015/01/21/the-best-bargains-for-buyers-looking-for-lightly-owned-used-cars/

...there is no such thing as a new car...

Chart by the Prof using data from the auto auction firm Adesa. These data are raw averages of varying mixes of vehicles. Tom Kontos, their chief economist, analyzes this in much greater detail, by brand, like-vehicles, with seasonal corrections and on and on.

The Prof's comments: This is a neat topic, because the physical depreciation of a car is different from the economic depreciation. It is also at least in part a strategic variable that car companies can influence, through adjusting competition among vehicles in their model lineup and the timing of new model introductions and (as noted below by Michael Adams) fleet sale and leasing policies.
The overall declining trend is a reflection of the Great Recession: no leasing and few sales of new cars and lower incomes led to a dearth of used vehicles amidst greater demand for generally less-expensive used vehicles. That effect lingers but has largely worked its way through the system. You can though see changes by category, e.g. trucks vs smaller cars. I don't know the impact of interest rates on the "yield curve" of cars. Lower rates make both bought-new and bought-used cars less expensive, at least for purchasers who are thoughtful about their financing options. Companies such as ALG that are involved in leasing surely model that. My hunch is that the income effect – higher purchasing power – offsets the substitution effect so that there is no net impact.

Comment by Michael Adams: This article helps to explain why firms, notably General Motors, have begun to scale back on fleet vehicles. The slightly used fleet vehicles, depreciated during their time of service, are quickly resold as used cars and compete with brand new models. Consumers can reap the benefits of a purchasing a gently used car if they are willing to wait for even a few months.

Murray Manley commented: I think this article is particularly interesting because it highlights the difference in some examples of consumer and producer preferences. For example, producers are always working on producing the next model and aiming to engineer the best car that matches or exceeds the car of competitors. This “keeping up with the Jones’s” in the producer and manufacturing world leads to increased profits- whoever can produce the best vehicle the fastest will ideally sell the most cars. On the other hand, while some consumers prefer to always have a new and fashionable model of a car, others cannot afford, don’t care about, or are unaware of style changes from year to year. In that respect, the customers who care less about new models benefit because slightly used cars will always be significantly cheaper if producers continue to come out with new models quickly.