When is a good time to buy a car? Experts say now

By: CBS
By: CBS

CBS - The severe winter weather affecting much of the U.S. has been a curse for drivers, but it's proving to be a blessing for car buyers.

Data from TrueCar shows that dealer inventories are at their highest levels since 2009 and incentives are at their highest point since 2010. "If you're willing to brave the elements,the next 30 to 45 days will be an epic time to buy," said TrueCar CEO Scott Painter in an email

This view was echoed by Bill Fox, vice chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, who owns four dealerships in upstate New York.

"It's a perfect storm," he said, adding that the deals are especially good now on pick-up trucks. "If you are a consumer, this is as good as it's going to get. ... There is a lot of inventory out there."

George Magliano, an economist with IHS Global Insight, noted that the weather has slowed down the economy as a whole, as well as car sales.

"People are jockeying for position in the marketplace" he said. "You are not to clean up the inventory that fast, and we are not going to recoup the lost sales in one month."

Officials from the Big Three U.S. automakers deny that they are stuck with excess inventory because of the cold winter, and experts note that the numbers of vehicles on dealer lots has been rising because demand is up. Light vehicle sales are expected to top 16 million this year, well above the 10 million or so sold in 2009, when the economy was in the midst of a recession.

Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell said that neither inventory nor incentive levels were anything unusual. Nonetheless, she agrees that it is a good time to buy a car.

"It's been a good time to buy a car for some time," she said, noting that interest rates remain near historic lows. "March will be more of the same."

People interested in cars made by Japanese makers might get better deals in March since it's the end of their fiscal years, according to Caldwell.

Heading into this week's monthly auto sales reports, Wall Street will keep a close eye on both inventories and incentive levels to gauge the health of the industry. The U.S. companies, for their part, say things are going well.

"Sounds like you have been talking to our competitors," said Ralph Kissel, a spokesman for Chrysler, in an email. "We've been quite disciplined in our incentive spend. And our dealers have not allowed the severe winter weather to negatively impact them."

General Motors (GM) spokesman James Cain noted that North America's largest automaker had been running its annual President's Day Sale at Chevrolet and GMC. New programs will be introduced March 1. "But we haven't done anything specifically driven by the weather," he said in an email.

Added Ford (F) sales analyst Erich Merkle, "While the weather has been less than ideal, it has not influenced our incentive spending."
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