DALLAS — Consumers still in the market for a new vehicle are turning to cheaper models, according to Comerica's chief economist. This trend led the bank's affordability index to its highest level in almost 30 years.

The purchase of an average-priced new vehicle took 23.1 weeks of median family income in the second quarter, down 0.9 weeks from the first quarter and 1.9 weeks compared to a year ago.

Including finance charges, the total cost of buying an average-priced light vehicle was $27,704 in the second quarter. Last quarter, it took fewer weeks of work to purchase a new car than in any quarter since early 1980.

"With gasoline prices soaring, interest rates on car loans rising and the economy wobbly, those consumers who are still in the market for a new vehicle are opting for less expensive models," explained Dana Johnson, chief economist at Comerica Bank.

"Excluding finance costs, the average amount spent on a new car dropped another $700 to $23,900 last quarter and is now at its lowest level in three years. Consumers also are holding down their monthly payments by extending the average maturity of their car loans to 63.5 months, an increase of about two months over the past four quarters."