Monday, November 29, 2010

The Cheapest Cars Can Cost Too Much!

This column was inspired by a news article in the PB Post on Monday, November 29 entitled “Cash-strapped county spending $9 million on cars”. The article went on to say “one recent county purchase was a new $28,000 2010 Ford Taurus SEL for County Commissioner Pricilla Taylor.

After I shook my head to ask why on Earth would the PB County government would be spending $9 million to buy new cars for themselves in these direst of economic times, I then thought “how dare they” spend taxpayers’ money for buying the wrong cars too!

It’s a really bad idea to buy last year’s model new car when you can buy the current model. This is especially so of the Ford Taurus because the 2010 is virtually identical to the 2011 and they are priced nearly the same. Car dealers will advertise last year’s model for less money, but if you negotiate you can buy the current model for the about the same price as the old model. This is especially true in today’s economic climate, a buyers’ market. Sometimes the manufacturers will offer special incentives to help the dealers clear out last year’s model, but the amount of the incentive can’t come close to covering the extra depreciation you experience buying a one year old car. When time comes to trade that car in or sell it, nobody cares when you bought your car; they care only what the year on your title says.

Palm Beach County and most governmental agencies buy their cars at special fleet prices offered by the manufacturers. They don’t pay retail. But the fleet prices for the 2010 and 2011 Taurus would have been almost the same. Fleet pricing sounds like a good deal for the governments but it isn’t really. The manufacturers sell cars to fleets like the government and big rental companies at drastically reduced prices, often less than they sell cars to their own dealers. In fact, manufacturers will sometimes actually sell cars to large fleets for less money than it costs them to build the cars. Why, you ask, would they ever do such a thing? It’s less costly for a manufacturer to lose a few hundred dollars on a few thousand cars than have to close down shifts or entire manufacturing plants and reopen them at a later time. They have to pay UAW workers whether they’re building cars or not and the cost of shutting down and reopening plants is huge. Ford, GM, and Chrysler sell fleets anywhere from a one-quarter to one-third of all the cars they build.

This all brings me to the second big mistake Palm Beach County made when they bought a 2010 Ford Taurus for Mrs. Taylor. It’s “Economics 101” that when you flood the market with a product at below market prices, you drive down the resale value of the product. Why are diamonds so expensive? It’s not because they’re so pretty because a cubic zirconium is just as pretty. It’s because the number of diamonds on the market is controlled and limited by a giant cartel, DeBeers. If they didn’t do this, your diamond ring would plummet in value. Ford sells thousands of Taurus’s to governments and large rental companies at greatly discounted prices. When these large fleets buy new cars, they dump their old cars on the market at auto auctions. It’s all a matter of supply and demand. Selling too many Taurus’s over too short a time drives down the price. This also affects the unsuspecting retail buyer who buys and sells just one car at a time.

If you need proof of all of the above, just click on ALG is Auto Lease Guide which is the “bible” for how fast cars depreciate. Every bank, car dealer, and leasing company relies on ALG to set their prices on leasing. The residual value is the estimated value of new car 1, 2, 3,, 4, or 5 years hence. The residual is expressed as a percent of the cars original cost. A car with a 4 year residual of 25% would depreciate twice as fast as one with a 50%. If you go to the above website, you’ll find that the Ford Taurus has a very low residual. In fact it’s rated with only 2 stars, with 5 stars being the best. An example of a car with a 5 star residual is the Honda Accord. Honda sells very few cars to large fleets, about 8% of their total production. The Honda Accord’s purchase price is about $2,000 more than the Ford Focus, but after looking at the difference in deprecation, is a much better buy.

The moral to my story is to be smarter than the Palm Beach County government and don’t just buy the “cheapest” car you can find. Never buy last year’s model new car when you can buy the current year and always check the projected resale/residual value of the new car you want to buy.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Earl,
    Knowing the way politics is played, its very likely they bought the cheapest cars they could, because they'd have been attacked if they didn't! Arguments about long-term costs etc. are "wonkish" when compared to images of politicians driving "expensive luxury vehicles", which is surely the wording their political foes would choose. It's sad, but attacks like that work. If it takes 5 seconds to deliver an attack line, but 5 minutes to explain a defense...the attacker will win in the press. Sad, isn't it?


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