Atlanta, GA – So far, 2011 has been a roller coaster year for the auto industry, with numerous events influencing consumers’ auto shopping habits. From gas prices that have risen and fallen in the span of a few months to natural disasters that put the brakes on production for a few popular models, this year has shown how dramatically consumer shopping behavior can shift.
Each month, AutoTrader.com’s Trend Engine report highlights the most-searched vehicles on the site and offers insight into what factors may be influencing changes in popularity and average asking prices. Over the past year, the fluctuations in gas prices have dramatically affected the types of vehicles searched on AutoTrader.com: as gas prices rose sharply during the first part of the year, consumers turned their interest toward more fuel-efficient cars; however, with the decline in gas prices over the summer, consumers have shifted their focus back toward large trucks and SUVs, particularly in the new car arena. Accordingly, searches for small and mid-sized cars that are traditionally more fuel-efficient have continued to slide.
New Car Searches Focused More on Trucks and SUVs in August
Data from the site in August showed a decline in interest for cars in the small and mid-size segments, particularly on the list of most-searched new cars. Gone from the list is the new Ford Focus, which peaked at No. 10 in May but then began a steady decline throughout the summer—moving to No. 12 in June and then to No. 18 in July before disappearing from the list in August. Following in the Focus’ trajectory were the new Hyundai Sonata, which fell four spots to No. 19 in August; the new Volkswagen Jetta, which fell one spot to No. 13; and the new Chevrolet Cruze, which fell two spots to No. 10.
Conversely, interest in new trucks and SUVs became even stronger in August than in July, with four trucks garnering enough searches month-over-month to move them up the list. The new Dodge Ram 1500, new Ford F-250 and new Chevrolet Silverado 2500 all moved up two spots month-over-month, landing at No. 7, No. 9 and No. 12, respectively. The biggest movement was seen in the largest of the trucks on the list, with the new Ford F-350 leaping an impressive seven spots month-over-month to land at No. 20. The other full-size trucks on the list held steady in their positions from July to August.
SUVs also fared quite well in August, with the new Chevrolet Tahoe moving up four spots to No. 17 and the new Jeep Grand Cherokee moving up five spots to No. 14.
A Closer Look at Toyota and Honda
Noticeably absent from the list of most-searched new cars are some perennial favorites that appeared on the list during the same time last year: the Honda Accord, Honda Civic and Toyota Camry. These cars, which spent much of 2010 on the list of most-searched new cars, have been absent from the list for most of the months since the tsunami and earthquake in Japan. As has been widely reported, Toyota and Honda have both experienced declining inventory levels and market share since the dual natural disasters disrupted production.
In the April through July timeframe, the trend of declining inventory for new Toyota and Honda vehicles has been evident on AutoTrader.com; however, there was a hint of stabilization for both automakers in August. Toyota inventory remained flat from July to August, and inventory of Honda vehicles increased slightly at 2%.
As inventory of these Japanese brands continues to stabilize and increase in the coming months, analysts at AutoTrader.com believe that the automakers may be set up to enter the fourth quarter in a more competitive position and better able to reclaim lost market share.
On the list of most-searched used cars, there is some good news for these models in August, as both the used Honda Accord and used Toyota Camry gained enough consumer interest in August to move up one position on that list. The Accord came in at No. 7, and the Camry broke back onto the list at No. 20. The used Honda Civic held its position from July at No. 9. On the list of most-searched certified pre-owned vehicles (CPO), searches for the Accord and Camry also remained strong, as the Accord held steady in the No. 2 spot and the Camry held on to the No. 6 spot month-over-month. While the Civic dropped five spots month-over-month to No. 12, it still retains a respectable spot on the list of most-searched CPO cars.
“Despite the production issues facing Toyota and Honda, the strength of these brands and popularity of those models remains evident in the searches conducted on AutoTrader.com,” said Rick Wainschel, vice president of automotive insights at AutoTrader.com. “The Accord, Civic and Camry have long been among American’s favorite cars, and we expect them to remain viable competitors in the small and mid-size segments.”
Price Watch for New, Used and CPO Vehicles
Prices are still on the rise for the majority of the most-searched vehicles on AutoTrader.com, particularly in the CPO arena. Out of the top 20 most-searched CPO vehicles, 18 showed year-over-year asking price increases, with 14 of those posting increases in excess of $1,000. Overall, smaller, non-luxury vehicles had the highest percentage increases year-over-year. Of those, the CPO Honda Accord had the biggest dollar value increase, rising $1,967 (10.8%). Close behind was the CPO Honda Civic with a $1,841 (11.5%) increase and the CPO Volkswagen Jetta with a $1,751 (10.8%) increase.
On the list of most-searched used vehicles, there were less average asking price increases overall (10 out of 20). However, the smaller, non-luxury cars showed similar increases to those seen on the CPO list. The used Honda Accord had the highest increase in dollar value: $1,793, which amounts to 11.4%. The used Honda Civic followed with an increase of $1,553 (11.5%), and the Nissan Altima had the third highest increase at $1,426 (9.5%).
For new cars, it was actually an SUV that had the highest asking price increase: the new Ford Explorer’s price rose $4,044, or 11.2%. This increase is easily attributable to the highly successful redesign of that model.
New Vehicle Brands Show Rise of Korean Automakers
In looking at the most-searched new vehicle brands on AutoTrader.com, analysts noted a few intriguing moves that occurred in August. While Ford and Chevrolet retained the top two spots year-over-year, Toyota dropped one spot to No. 4. Jeep rose three spots to No. 6. Also rising on the list were two Korean brands: Hyundai rose three spots to No. 7, and Kia rose an impressive five spots to No. 9. These brands have been fierce competitors in recent times, and analysts at AutoTrader.com will be keeping a close watch on searches for these makes.