Leasing Accounts For A Quarter Of New Vehicle Sales As Payments, Residuals Stay Low

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
leasing accounts for a quarter of new vehicle sales as payments residuals stay low

While the engine behind the exceptional growth in new car sales is a hotly debated topic, leasing is proving to be an undeniable catalyst behind this year’s impressive new car sales numbers. Through June of this year, leasing accounted for 25.7 percent of new car sales, versus 22.2 percent in 2012. A decade ago, that number stood at just 17.5 percent.

Leasing saw a big jump in 2010, up to 21.3 percent of new car transactions, a nearly 5 percent rise compared to the prior year. Since 2010, leasing has been on a steady rise. One possible factor for this was that GM and Chrysler resumed leasing in late 2009, with the full effects of this becoming clear in 2010.

On the manufacturer side, OEMs are beginning to peg residuals at a higher number so that lower lease payments are made available for consumers. One TTAC source told us that a European luxury brand has spent close to ten figures buying down residuals to offer coveted “$299/month” lease payments on a popular model. An article in Automotive News explored this practice in the mainstream segment as well

Toyota is one of the risk-takers. It introduced the redesigned 2014 Corolla with low lease payments and residual values that are higher than those of the previous model. Toyota is betting the 2014 Corolla will be worth 63 percent of the sticker price three years from now compared with 53 percent for the 2013 model.

There is risk for the auto makers who go with a high residual. If the vehicle turns out to be worth less than the residual used by the automaker, it could cost the OEM money. But by pegging the residual value higher, customers can borrow less money (since they borrow the difference between the vehicle’s cost and its expected value after the lease term), allowing for lower payments. Keeping the monthly payment low has been a crucial element of auto financing in the post recession era.

Average transaction prices for new vehicles have topped $31,000 while the prosperity of Americans has not seen proportionate increases. Census data shows that the average income for a family has fallen 8 percent since 2007, with no growth occurring in 2012. Understandably, many consumers are put in a financially precarious position when it comes to paying for a new vehicle. Used car prices have also risen to the point where buying a second-hand vehicle is no longer as attractive as it once was. In response, vehicle loan terms have gotten longer, so that consumers can keep their monthly payments manageable despite having to finance increasingly expensive vehicles. The average term for a new vehicle loan in Q2 of 2013 was 65 months. On the other hand, subprime delinquencies have remained on a downward trend and commercial banks are looking to get in on the action as securitized loans are one of the few products providing yields in an era of ZIRP.

An expansion in consumer credit has been one of the underlying themes in the growth of new car sales and auto financing in recent years, but the spike in leasing, and the emphasis on keeping payments low is worth keeping an eye on, if only as an indicator of a larger macroeconomic trend. Cars are getting more expensive and increasingly out of reach for many. But as long as there’s a way to keep it “affordable”, even if it means leasing, not buying, or incredibly long loan terms, then new car sales can keep soaring to record heights.

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  • That guy That guy on Sep 26, 2013

    I won't be surprised if/when used car values tank in the very near future due to all these new leases being turned in. That's why leasing isn't such a bad deal right now. With these low payments, you'll get a good car for low money with absolutely no risk. If used car values remain high at the end of your lease, lease again. If used car values tank, go get yourself a steal on a CPO.

  • Ixim Ixim on Sep 26, 2013

    Those low monthlies ignore the often hefty upfront costs - down payments, bank and "acquisition" fees, disposal back-end fees, etc. which raise the real payment by a lot. Plus, upfront cash is lost should you total the car, gap insurance notwithstanding. I get the criicism - that lessees are overpaying. That's why only heavily subsidized leases - uncommon these days - are worth signing.

  • Sgeffe It still boggles my pea brain that something that was pretty much standard on most cars two decades ago was left off of cars in the early teens! BUT if I understand things correctly, Canadian models had the immobilizers! (Along with heated steering wheels and other bits that would never be found on a car bound for, say, Minneapolis!)
  • CEastwood Yep this is the bolt screwers last chance at the big money before all their jobs become extinct to robots and outsourcing to low wage countries . Prediction - they will get some compromise between what they want and what real world economics dictate . Then the car companies will gradually move their operations to other countries or southern states without unions . They are hastening the loss of their jobs and don't seem to care or even be aware of it .
  • Jeff I am going to guess Stellantis because they have not yet invested as much in EVs than Ford and GM and they have been slow and very reluctant to enter the EV market. Stellantis is developing EVs for the European market but I don't believe they want to mess with Ram and Jeep their money makers in the US.
  • Sgeffe Any PR position seems to require a Marketing degree (which I hope is a Bachelor of Science degree, but I digress! ;-) )And as I've opined before, all a Marketing degree really consists of is a degree in shoveling bovine excrement!
  • Dwford Ford. They have over committed to EVs with the cancellation of all sedans as well as the recent cancellations of most of their gas crossovers. Too soon. GM has a whole new lineup of gas crossovers coming, while also introducing new EVs: the correct strategy.