Attention, Plebs: New Cars Are Becoming Prohibitively Expensive

As new vehicle prices continue to climb, many wonder how high MSRPs can go before the public decides to take a pass — assuming they haven’t already. Sales growth is slowing, even in seemingly bulletproof markets like China. Even before this ominous backdrop unfurled, dealers were making noise about new car prices that had grown overly ambitious, claiming they couldn’t endure another period of sustained economic hardship.

Edmunds estimates that the average transaction price of a new vehicles reached $36,495 in December 2018 — a 3 percent increase compared to December of 2016 and a 13 percent increase compared to December of 2012. Taking that knowledge, Road & Track compiled a broader picture of the new-car market and where it might be going.

Spoilers ahead if you don’t want the unpleasant non-surprise ruined.

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No Fixed Abode: Who Can Afford a New Car, Anyway?

It’s just the title of a recent Charlie Hunter album, but it says a lot about life in post-2008 America: Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead.

Here’s one example: According to Business Insider, the average middle-class family can no longer afford the average new car. Is that true? And if it is true, how and why did that happen, and what can be done to fix this sad state of affairs?

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Average Car Price Affordable Only To Washington, DC Customers

Unlike the average Beltway insider, a report by Interest.com claims the majority of medium-income American households in 24 of 25 cities studied cannot afford the average new-car price of $32,086.

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  • MaintenanceCosts There's no mystery anymore about how the Japanese took over the prestige spot in the US mass market (especially on the west coast) when you realize that this thing was up against the likes of the Fairmont, Citation, and Volaré. A massacre.
  • MaintenanceCosts Chevy used to sell almost this exact color on the Sonic, Bolt, and Camaro, as "Shock." And I have a story about that.I bought my Bolt in 2019. Unsurprisingly the best deal came from the highest-volume Bolt dealer in my very EV-friendly area. They had huge inventory; I bought right when Chevy started offering major incentives, and the car had been priced too high to sell well until that point.Half the inventory had a nice mix of trims and colors, and I was able to find the exact dark-gray-on-white Premier I wanted. But the real mystery was the other half of the inventory. It was something like 40 cars, all Shock on black, split between LT and Premier. You could get an additional $2000 or so off the already low selling price if you bought one of them. (Neither my wife nor I thought the deal worth it.) The cars were real and in the flesh; a couple were out front, but behind the showroom, there was an entire row of them.When I took delivery, I asked the salesman how on earth they had ended up with so many. He told me in a low voice that a previous sales manager had screwed up order forms for a huge batch of cars that were supposed to be white, and that no one noticed until a couple transporters loaded with chartreuse Bolts actually showed up at the dealer. Long story short, there was no way to change the order. They eventually sold all the cars and you still see them more often than you'd expect in the area.
  • EAM3 Learned to drive in my parents' 1981 Maxima. Lovely car that seemed to do everything right. I can still hear the "Please turn off the lights" voice in my head since everyone wanted a demo of the newfangled talking car. A friend of the family had a manual transmission one and that thing was fun!
  • FreedMike That wagon is yummy.
  • Syke Thanks, somehow I missed that.