When the number of cars for sale dropped rapidly during the pandemic it gave automakers a chance to reap huge profits by slashing incentives and prioritizing higher trim-level models over more affordable trims. That trick does not work forever.
There’s just a Costco-sized jar of data and info this week I want to get to and, as best as I can, I’m going to try and tie it up into a theme. That theme is: The cars are too damn expensive.
Also, it’s Friday, let’s check in on the strike while we’re here. And maybe Chinese exports of graphite, because I love talking about graphite. Who doesn’t?
The Cars Are Too Damn Expensive
Every month, car buying site CarEdge puts out Market Day Supply (MDS), which attempts to determine how long it would take to sell the current listed inventory by comparing how many cars are for sale and how many sold over 45 days.
This data is extremely raw, and CarEdge, in spite of my complaints, doesn’t always do a good job of explaining why certain cars might have longer selling periods. For example, in the most recent data you’ll see that heavy-duty Ram pickups show a market supply of 460 days, which quite possibly is a result of the stop-sale for those trucks earlier this year.
That caveat aside, the data (culled from public listings) is still pretty fun to look at and allows me to write articles about America having a 750-day supply of Jeep Renegades. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Jeep Grand Wagoneer is near the top of this list with a Market Day Supply of 336 days.
Why? The average transaction price of $104,821 probably has something to do with it. In fact, almost all of the cars on this list transact above the industry-wide average transaction price of around $48,000.
The only car that’s below it is the Dodge Hornet at $37,588 — a vehicle that recently went on sale and doesn’t yet have a high level of awareness. Also, honestly, I can’t see spending almost $38k on a Dodge Hornet when you could literally buy almost any other crossover.
I’m also not surprised to see the EQS at a supply of 212 days and an average transaction price of $123,179. There’s an article worth reading from Automotive News this morning on exactly this issue, and it highlights my point from earlier that automakers are becoming victims of their own high trim levels, though this data shows a more conservative supply estimate:
As more proof of consumers starting to opt for attainable cars, the relatively affordable Mercedes-Benz GLC SUV shows up on the list of cars with the lowest supply at just 27 days and an ATP of just $57,272. In fact, the whole rest of the list of in-demand cars is roughly at or below the industry average.
Carmakers are usually rational actors so it makes sense they prioritized profits during the pandemic with higher margin vehicles, but now that the pandemic is over it seems foolish to keep the same strategy.
Certified Pre Owned Sales Are Up
Just as consumers are looking for affordable new cars, they’re also looking for nice and affordable used cars. This is where Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) cars shine, offering warrantied vehicles from dealers at sub-new-car prices.
According to Cox Automotive, year-to-date CPO sales have crossed 2 million units, which is a 9% year-over-year increase. Luxury CPO, no shock, is up 12% thanks to brands like Genesis, Acura, and Lexus.
In fact, CPOs are outpacing the overall used car market:
CPO is outperforming the used-vehicle market so far in 2023. For comparison, according to Cox Automotive estimates based on vehicle registration data, total used-vehicle sales in September decreased 3.2% from August to 3.0 million units. The seasonally adjusted annual rate, or SAAR, is estimated to have finished September near 35.8 million, up from last September’s 35.1 million pace, but down from August’s upwardly revised 36.0 million level. Year to date, retail used vehicle sales are down less than 1% through the end of September.
What’s the catch? Well, because of the downturn in leasing during the pandemic, it seems there aren’t enough CPO luxury cars for supply to meet demand.
China Is Cutting Graphite Exports
Batteries need a lot of stuff to work, stuff like lithium, gallium, phosphoric acid, and graphite. Basically, all EV batteries use graphite for their anodes.
Graphite, which is just crystalized carbon, is extremely abundant, but not many countries refine it to the level needed for batteries. Can you guess which country is, in fact, responsible for 90% of the world’s graphite for EV batteries? Yup, China.
And now China reportedly doesn’t want to share. Per Reuters:
China’s commerce ministry said the move on graphite was “conducive to ensuring the security and stability of the global supply chain and industrial chain, and conducive to better safeguarding national security and interests”.
It added that it was not targeting any specific country. Top buyers of graphite from China include Japan, the United States, India and South Korea, according to Chinese customs data.
Under the new restrictions, China will require as of Dec. 1 that exporters apply for permits to ship two types of graphite, including high-purity, high-hardness and high intensity synthetic graphite material, and natural flake graphite and its products.
This is happening against the backdrop of a world at the brink of war and, currently, some governments trying to keep China from exporting their EVs en masse to Western markets.
No End In Sight For Strike, Layoffs Continue
Today is Day 36 of the United Auto Workers strike and it’s not clear how, when, or why it’s going to end. Though the UAW has said it wasn’t going to make Friday its big strike announcement day, it does seem like the UAW might announce more strikes today.
While this is going on, automakers are beginning to expand layoffs in response, as reported by The Detroit News:
Stellantis on Friday said it was laying off an additional 100 employees at its Toledo Machining Plant in Ohio effective Monday, increasing the total laid off there to 170, because of the strike at its nearby Toledo Assembly Complex, which makes the Jeep Wrangler off-road SUV and Gladiator truck. The machining plant, which employs more than 400 hourly workers, has reached its maximum inventory level for components supplied to the assembly complex.
Stellantis now has 1,530 employees on temporary layoff stemming from downtime at its assembly plant that is on strike.
Ford Motor Co. also said it had laid off another 150 workers at its axle plant in Sterling Heights as a result of production impacts of the strike.
Sterling Heights makes axles for the Kentucky Truck Plant that the UAW decided to strike.
The Big Question
These questions have been a little one-note lately, so let’s have a fun Friday hypothetical: Let’s say you developed an incredibly addictive word-based game and sold it to The Washington Post for $20 million. You want to go racing. Do you:
- Join a rich-person racing program like Ferrari Challenge or Porsche Carrera Cup?
- Get a TCR car and try your hand at IMSA’s lower class?
- Fund a NASCAR truck team?
- Buy a vintage Mini Cooper and be one of those people at vintage races that’s 10/10ths all the time?
- Buy a $500 LeMons car?