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GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Used-vehicle value retention is usually strong at the beginning of the year, but February showed better-than-expected trends and March appears to be quite healthy, as well, according to the latest report from Black Book's Ricky Beggs.

"Traditional patterns within the used market normally show values with the best retention during the first few months of the year. Part of this is generally a change in the market from the end of the previous year," explained Beggs, the company's vice president and managing editor.

"The retention, or depreciation, for the last month, February 2010, has presented a more positive trend than is normally expected," he noted.

More specifically, among 2007 model-year units, 16 of the 24 segments that Black Book monitors depreciated less than 1 percent from the prior month.

Beggs pointed out that typical yearly depreciation levels are between 16 percent and 18 percent, so "the trends so far for 2010 are holding extremely strong."

The segments that showed value increases compared to the prior month were full-size CUVs (up 0.92 percent), with minivan wagons, full-size pickups, minivan cargo models and midsize SUVs next in line.

Overall, across all segments, values fell 0.7 percent month-over-month. Looking at it from a dollar perspective, Beggs noted that during February, 14 of the 24 segments the company tracks showed depreciations smaller than $100.

Discussing the results of the most recent three-month period (December-February), Beggs stated: "Quarterly trends didn't have any segment types with overall increases, mostly due to the very typical soft market in December 2009 and a slow start in the first half of January 2010. The last couple of weeks of February helped overcome the sluggish first part of the most recent three-month quarter."

Analyzing the last three months (December through February) in more detail, full-size pickups showed the lowest depreciation (down 2.4 percent), while luxury SUVs, midsize SUVs and premium sporty cars were also strong, showing depreciation of less than 4 percent.

Continuing on to examine year-over-year year trends, Beggs pointed out: "Looking back over the last full year, the retention of vehicle values for many segments is at unprecedented levels."

For instance, eight of 24 segments had stronger values on March 1 than they did exactly a year prior.

"So when we hear dealers saying ‘prices are strong' it's more than a perception," he commented. "It is a fact."

Midsize pickups (up 7 percent) have shown the heaviest year-over-year gains. Interestingly enough, the list of segments whose values have improved from the year-ago period is comprised entirely of truck, CUV, SUV or van segments.

"Within all of the positive year-over-year segment trends, the worst segment in percentage depreciation was full-size cargo vans at -13 percent, still much less than a normal year of depreciation," Beggs pointed out.

Moving on, Beggs noted that the healthiness in the market right now is due to a number of factors.

"The trucks continue to be 'need' vehicles due to their versatility," he shared. "With continued stabilization in gas prices until just last week, fuel economy levels are often being somewhat overlooked."

Beggs added: "As we head into the next month the strength and stability of the used car market is expected to continue due mostly to an overall shortage of used vehicles we have been witnessing for the last 18-20 months.

"There continues to be more consumer interest in used vehicles on the retail market as the perception grows that it is a better buy while committing less investment over a shorter loan period than most new-car purchases," he stated.

Black Book Debuts iPhone App

In other news from the company, Black Book launched its iPhone Application called iUsed Car, which is available via the Apple iTunes Store.

Officials said the app can be found on the iPhone and iPod touch so users can maximize both speed and easy usability.

There is a retail version as well as an industry qualified dealer-only version. The dealer variety includes daily value updates from Black Book so that dealers can gain a timely and accurate view of wholesale trends.

Specifically, officials noted that iUsed Car:

—Features four market-driven Black Book vehicle values for over 18,000 vehicles throughout the last 15 model years.

—Allows values to be adjusted for mileage and optional equipment.

—Lets users adjust values based on region or state.

—Includes over 80,000 VIN numbers so users can retrieve vehicles quickly.

—Drill-down capability that allows users to look up vehicles easily.

"The response to the soft launch of this product has been fantastic," Tom Cross, president of Black Book, said Monday. "We've had more than 1,000 customers download our application in less than seven days on the market. 

"The positive industry feedback has reinforced our belief from the beginning that our iUsedCar app would be a home run," he continued. "Combining the technology, speed and the ease-of-use capabilities of the iPhone, with the power of Black Book daily values, has truly created a new must-have tool for both the dealership and the auction lanes."

Mike Dzielawa, of Armadillo Inventory Management LLC, was one of iUsed Car's first subscribers, and offered his thoughts on the product: "This is a great app. It's much more convenient than printed books and the ‘Quick List' feature makes it a great tool for the auction lanes."

Meanwhile, the company said that Powersports and Collectible Car apps are slated to be released later in March.