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McLEAN, Va. — Wholesale prices were up across the board month-over-month during the first week of January, according to NADA Used Car Guide, which indicated that on the car side of the used market, value gains by some of the high-volume segments likely mean that a traditional spring market has begun.

In the first week of the month, vans showed the largest increase, as they were up roughly 1.4 percent from December. Pickups jumped approximately 1 percent, while SUV prices increased around 0.6 percent and crossovers inched forward less than 0.2 percent.

And though passenger cars were relatively static month-over-month, some of the higher-volume segments have shown strong gains, officials noted.

"For most models in the high-volume intermediate compact and intermediate midsize segments, auction sale prices from early January show mild strengthening (1 to 2 percent) when compared to December sales," shared Jonathan Banks, senior director of editorial and data services for NADA Used Car Guide. "Luxury and near-luxury compact and midsize cars have cooled off a little, with sale prices down about 3 percent from their December averages. 

"The price improvement of high volume segments from December to January indicates that the beginning of a traditional spring market is in play," he added.

Interestingly enough, Banks also reported that, on average, sale prices of used vehicles in the 2007-2009 model-year range have been roughly 8 percent higher than those of one- to three-year-old units a year ago.

On the truck side of the market — where vans led the way in terms of sequential value increases during the first week of the month — "more moderate increases" are forecasted throughout most segments.

"Vans have shown the greatest strength with a nearly 2-percent price average price increase versus December," Banks explained. "In most segments, more moderate increases will most likely occur in the coming months as the market may have returned to a somewhat normalized seasonal cycle, albeit at a higher price point and to a lesser degree than has been experienced in previous years."

Looking ahead to February, analysts expect values in most trucks segments will fall slightly. That said, Banks project many older midsize SUVs could climb. He attributes this to relatively high demand and relatively low supply. 

"These increases may be the beginning of a longer-term trend through the rest of the spring," he shared.  

Continuing on, NADA Used Car Guide looked at the potential impact of fuel costs — which could soon hover in the $3 range — on both the car and trucks segments of the market.

"A gradual but steady increase in fuel prices, which tends to have a lifting effect on non-luxury compact cars is expected to increase prices above seasonal effects in the upcoming months," Banks suggested." "NADA believes that if gas prices reach and sustain a price over $3 per gallon (small) car sales prices will increase even further.

Regarding the truck side of the market, he added: "Gas prices may once again become a factor in the next few months, as gas prices are steadily increasing and are now almost a dollar more than they were this time last year; $3 gas may become a reality in the next few months."

Banks also pointed that sold vehicle volume, based on AuctionNet measurement, was down significantly in December compared to the prior year. Showing the largest decline were vans (off nearly 56 percent), followed by SUVs (more than 53 percent) and pickups, which fell over 45 percent. Cars dipped close to 32 percent and CUVs fell nearly 30 percent.

"Sold vehicle volume, as measured by AuctionNet, continues to show dramatically lower volumes for the month of December 2009 versus December 2008. One to five-year-old vehicles are down across the board," Banks highlighted. "This supply shortage should continue into the spring."

Wholesale Market Volatility

Moving on, the report also included NADA's Weekly Historical Volatility Measure, which takes a look at wholesale price volatility and risk. 

Large pickups were the most volatile segment of three-year-old vehicles during the first week of January, as their HVM was 15.7 percent.

They were followed by midsize CUVs (13.5 percent) and compact CUVs (13.4 percent). The set average for the industry was 11.2 percent.

Conversely, luxury large SUVs were the least volatile with an HVM of 6.8 percent. Not too far behind were premium luxury large cars and luxury large cars (both at 7.8 percent), followed by intermediate midsize cars (9.1 percent).

Also below the set average were intermediate large cars (10 percent), midsize vans (10.4 percent), intermediate compact cars (10.7 percent) and large SUVs (10.9 percent).