Used and new metal is rolling over the curb at paces pleasing to dealers and finance companies. But more vehicles are connected to contracts at lengths approaching the time a two-term president spends in the White House.
Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs acknowledged the chatter about longer-term loans intensified as the industry gathered for recent events in Detroit, New York and Las Vegas. Those conversations also included concerns about loans lasting 84 months or even longer, especially for new models where Kelley Blue Book estimated average transaction price for light vehicles in the United States hit $33,666 in March.
“Yet it doesn’t seem like anybody wants to be the one that blinks and backs down. So while there’s a lot of concern and chatter about it, so far I don’t think we’ve seen any action reversing it,” Krebs said when Autotrader and KBB hosted a conference call with the media this past Friday morning.
KBB’s information showed last month’s new-car prices increased by $645 or 2 percent from March of last year. Analysts noticed that prices for Fiat Chrysler units (up 3.3 percent) and Toyota vehicles (up 3.1 percent) rose the most last month.
“While this may seem like good news for automakers and dealers, incentive spending continues to rise within the industry and offset part of this strength,” Kelley Blue Book analyst Tim Fleming said in a release containing the data. “Also, to afford the growing monthly payments, more consumers are financing these vehicles for 72 and 84 months, which will likely delay the purchase cycle for their next vehicle.”
The closing data point from last week’s opening presentation during the 2016 J.D. Power Automotive Summit illustrated the magnitude to which terms are stretching. J.D. Power reported that the percentage of loans in the 84 months and longer range is now 5.4 percent of total sales, up 140 basis points from 2015. Likewise, the percentage of vehicles that are leased is now 31.4 percent, up 360 basis points from 2015.
During the monthly media call, Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Alec Gutierrez pointed out how leasing can be a “counterbalance” to the continual rise in stretching installment contract terms. Still Gutierrez cautioned that the pace of vehicles being turned and the subsequent finance company origination volume are likely to be impacted if more contracts are 72 months or longer.
“As you know if you’re signing up for a six- or seven-year loan, the period of time in which you’re going to be underwater on that loan, you’re going to have to own that vehicle longer before you’re at a point where you can either trade it in or liquidate it or sell it on your own to buy your next new car,” Gutierrez said.
“I think what you’ll find is it’s going to extend the ownership lifecycle for folks who partake in these loans, and will thus keep folks out of the marketplace a little bit longer,” he added.
And Gutierrez also pondered the potential for leasing to slow down, too.
“As time goes on, which way the pendulum swings — more folks taking longer term loans and you see leasing start to pull back — which we would expect at some point as we see used-car values take a hit in the next six to 12 to 18 months, all it’s going to do is extend the time in between purchases for folks who are taking those longer loans,” he said.