Sticker Shock: Get Ready to Pay More for Imported Cars

YarisThe disaster in Japan could slow shipments of popular cars like Toyota's Prius to auto lots. And many dealers are already taking advantage of expected shortages to raise prices.

Buyers will now typically have to pay sticker prices, instead of enjoying discounts that had been the norm for small cars and hybrids imported from Japan. Besides the Prius, models that suddenly cost more include Honda's Insight, Fit and CR-V; Toyota's Yaris; and several Acuras and Infinitis.

Small cars such as the Yaris, with a $12,955 sticker price for a base model, and the Honda Insight, priced at $18,200, are losing their typical discounts of 5 percent to 10 percent.

The price increases "will last weeks, if not months," says Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights for TrueCar.com, a website that tracks what cars sell for at dealerships

Dealers are acting on the possibility that disruptions in car deliveries from Japan will cause a shortage of higher-demand vehicles. Demand will exceed supply.

So they won't cut deals on those cars, Toprak says.

Car buyers rarely pay sticker price, also known as the MSRP or Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price. Companies typically offer discounts of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars off the MSRP. Many also provide low-rate financing.

On top of all that, there's typically room for further negotiation. Toyota, for example, had been offering a $500 rebate on the Prius, plus zero-percent financing. And it offered a $1,000 rebate on the Yaris.

Many smaller cars and hybrids are built in Japan, where car manufacturing has mostly stopped in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

Toyota says it's shut down production until Tuesday. Honda remains closed and hasn't said when its plants will restart. A shipment of more than 1,000 Nissan and Infiniti cars that was headed to the United States was destroyed in the tsunami. At least one hybrid battery maker is shut down, threatening supplies of hybrid cars.

"Prices have firmed up, and the tsunami is only going to help that," says John Hawkins, a Los Angeles-area dealer who runs three Honda dealerships.

Even before the disaster, dealers were reporting a shortage of hybrids such as the Prius, which had been in demand because of higher gas prices. The Prius uses a combination of electric and gasoline power and gets 51 mpg.

A month ago, Dave Conant said his Toyota dealership in San Diego had 57 Prius hybrids for sale. Today, he has three or four. Priuses carry a sticker price of $23,050 for a base model.

"We're going to run out of cars," he says.

So he's no longer willing to make a deal.

The disaster in Japan changed everything. Before last week, Toyota had been stepping up production of Priuses. Dealers wanted to sell as many as they could. But now, Conant says he and other dealers are no longer willing to sell their fuel-efficient cars for less than sticker price.

"We had five on the ground yesterday, and I don't know when I'll get another," he says. "The market has shifted pretty quickly and dramatically."

Some critics argue that dealers are using the Japan disaster, and the threat of car shortages, as an excuse to raise prices. Eric Ibara, director of residual price consulting for Kelley Blue Book, says any price increases in the market now are "pure speculation" that some models will face shortages.

Toyota declined to comment.

Honda spokesman Jeffrey Smith says the automaker is still assessing the impact of the Japan crisis on its supply of cars. But for now, dealers have enough Japanese imports on hand, and more are on the way, he said.

Infiniti announced price increases Monday for about half its models. Buyers will pay between $400 and $950 more per model. But Infiniti spokeswoman Paula Angelo says the price increases are unrelated to the Japan disaster.

"It's our normal practice to make mid model-year price adjustments," Angelo says.

Used cars may be affected, too. Higher prices on new cars will mean higher prices on used ones, says Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association. Once supplies of small cars and hybrids tighten and dealers stop negotiating on price, many customers lower their sights. Cheaper used cars become more appealing.

That higher demand drives prices up.

"Dealers will pay more at auction or for trade-ins, and it will result in a higher price for consumers," Jackson says.

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Kathy and Frank

Will American car makers finally figure out that Americans want hybrids? Ford's puny attempt at making hybrids is shameful. They are still thinking that all Americans want big cars and big trucks. This is the opportunity for American car makers to get into the hybrid game. They have to improve their hybrid vehicles to make them as good or better than the Prius and they have to make more of them. Are they smart enough?

March 19 2011 at 8:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeff

American made car prices wil go thru the roof now with no competetion from Japan.

March 19 2011 at 9:54 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
pdbliz

PEOPLE,,,RV,S ARE NOW ,,,DIME A DOZEN,,,,,,,OBAMA IS OFF AND RUNNING,,THERE HAS BEEN OIL FOUND IN OTHER COUNTRIES,,,,
WAIT,,,,,,,THERE IS PLENTY HERE,,,WHY GO AROIUND THE WORLD.?????

March 19 2011 at 9:45 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
pdbliz

PEOPLE,,,OBAMA HAS YET TO TAKE CHARGE OF ANYTHING.....WHEN SOMETHING COMES UP...OFF AND RUNNING IS OBAMA,,,,,,EVEN OLD REV WRIGHT IS TALKING TRASH ABOUT OBAMA,,,,,..
IT IS SAD,,WE HAVE PEOPLE IN AMERICA,,,THAT COULD NOT SEE WHAT OBAMA STOOD FOR,,,
EVEN SADDER,,,WASHINGTON IS FULL OF PEOPLE ,,JUST LIKE OBAMA,,,,,
LOOK AT THE SUPREME COURT,!!!!!!!!!..
THE CONSTITION IS BEING THROWED OUT THE WINDOW ,,,OBAMA AND HIS CRONNIES,,MAKE THE LAWS AS THEY GO.!!!!!!
AND,,SECOND,,,,,OBAMA WILL NOT LEAD THE WAR ,,,,,,MUSLIMS DO NOT KILL MUSLIMS,!!!

March 19 2011 at 9:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pdbliz

FIRST OF ALL...NO WAY IN HECK WOULD I BUY A GOVERMENT OWNED CAR,,,,,
CHEVY OR CHRY........AND,,SECOND,,,NO WAY IN HECK I WOULD PAY MORE FOR IMPORTED CARS BECAUSE OF THE QUAKE,,,,!!! THAT IS STICKER PRICING,, ,,,GOUGGING THE PUBLIC.!!!!
I WILL DRIVE MINE,,,OR FIX IT OR BUY A USED ONE...
I WILL NOT LET THE DEALERS RIP ME OFF, AND,,I HOPE YOU DO NOT EITHER...
ONLY WAY TO FIGHT THE GOVERMENT OWNED DEALERS,,,,DO NOT BUY....
SAME WITH IMPORTS,,IF THEY TRY TO HIKE THE PRICES UP...
I DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE EITHER ONE......

March 19 2011 at 9:40 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
scottee

I went to an rv show yesterday and saw two cars in the parking lot that had bumpers stickers that said BUY LOCAL...I know they were referring to food, but their cars were a Honda and Toyota. does this makes sense to anyone???

March 19 2011 at 7:53 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to scottee's comment
sevenv

No not to me....But you know the new expression ....."American as a foriegn car"....Buy foriegn ,but to make up for it you slap an American flag on it....

March 19 2011 at 8:22 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
tntonys

you should be buying american anyway

March 19 2011 at 7:19 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tntonys's comment
scottee

you are a day late and dollar short on this one...

March 19 2011 at 8:12 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
us118

TOYOTAS ARE NOT GOOD CARS ANYMORE ANYWAY NOW THEY ARE RADIO ACTIVE ALSO...WHAT NEXT?

March 19 2011 at 1:02 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to us118's comment
scottee

between Michael Moore and the auto union, we still can't afford American cars!

March 19 2011 at 7:54 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
thomene

What if Japan couldn't export anything because the fear of their exports being contaminated with radiation.

March 19 2011 at 12:16 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
jdgwillowtree

I was wondering, when manufacturing returns, will the autos now built in Japan and exported to the U.S. be radioactive? I saw on the news channels that some of the auto and parts plants in Japan were close to the evacuation area. Something to think about......

March 18 2011 at 11:51 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply