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ATLANTA — Several used and certified pre-owned models saw declines in shopping activity on AutoTrader.com during December, but it wasn't for lack of consumer interest. Instead, site officials attributed this drop-off in used and CPO activity to to lower inventories of these units.

Analysts noted that this trend was especially evident in the asking prices for trucks and SUVs. For instance, views for the Chevrolet Suburban dropped 24 percent year-over-year, but asking prices climbed 19 percent.

And as new-vehicle sales improve, it is likely to provide a lift for used supply and traffic, according to AutoTrader.com, which also indicated that the CPO market should have a "return to normalcy."

"Poor sales in 2008 due to high gas prices and the economy — which caused a corresponding pull back of manufacturing new cars — has reduced the number of used and CPO vehicles now available on the market, which in turn has reduced dealer inventories and the amount of shopping activity that we are currently seeing on such vehicles," explained Chip Perry, president and chief executive officer of AutoTrader.com.

"As new-car sales improve and these buyers trade in their now used cars, we should see also see a corresponding improvement in used-car inventories and shopping activity," he continued.

Analysts noted that CPO supply took what they called a "double hit." Due to the credit crisis, many automakers slowed down or completely cut out their leasing programs. As most know, off-lease units are a major inventory supplier for certified programs.

"Those CPO buyers who weren't scared away from buying by the challenging economy found that in many cases there just wasn't available inventory of CPO vehicles because these leasing programs had dried up," Perry pointed out. 

"But as credit eases for both consumers and auto manufacturers, we'll see a return to normalcy in the CPO market," he added. "Certified vehicles remain an important component of manufacturers' and dealers' sales strategies going forward into the future."

Regarding the most searched-for certified units on AutoTrader.com, the BMW 3 Series was No. 1 during December, followed by the Chevrolet Silverado, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford F-150, respectively.

As far as used vehicles overall, the F-150 was tops. The 3 Series was second and the Silverado was No. 3, while the Ford Mustang and the Ford F-250 rounded out the top five used searches.

New-Vehicle Traffic Climbs

Meanwhile, on the new-vehicle side of the market, AutoTrader.com officials said the site showed "significant burst" in activity during the month. In fact, there were double- or triple-digit year-over-year activity increases in almost all of the site's 20 most popular new units.

Traffic for the Chevrolet Traverse, for instance, was up 181 percent year-over-year, marking the largest increase in views.

What's more, analysts suggested the pricing may have started to bounce back. Of the top 20 most-viewed new units, 14 saw year-over-year increases in average list prices.

Three of the top 20 — the F-150, Ford Fusion and Silverado — posted double-digit price gains.

As far as the top five for visits, the F-150 took the top spot, followed by the Accord, Toyota Camry, Silverado and Toyota Corolla, respectively.

"December 2009 may be remembered as the month where interest in new cars returned, if activity on our site is any indication," Perry shared. 

"Many consumers are feeling more confident about their jobs and the economy going into the new year, and those factors, coupled with lots of exciting new models in showrooms, should drive an increasing amount of foot traffic to new car dealers throughout 2010," he noted. "The typical AutoTrader.com visitor is looking to purchase a vehicle in 30 to 90 days, so new-car dealers and auto manufacturers may have something to celebrate in the next quarter or so."

Overall, traffic on AutoTrader.com was 13.05 million unique visitors, a 1-percent gain from December 2008. This was the 12th straight month of year-over-year traffic improvement, according to AutoTrader.com.

"Our site traffic is indicative of the continuing trend in people going to the Internet to shop for vehicles," Perry stated. 

"Today, the vast majority of car shoppers are going to the Internet to research and compare models, get pricing and specials and see inventory in their area," he continued. "AutoTrader.com has been a key player in spurring this trend and car dealers who continue to refine their online marketing will be the big winners in 2010 and in years to come."