Japanese automakers are practicing price restraint in the United States, while the traditional U.S. producers have been unable or unwilling to do so.
Those are among the conclusions drawn from an Automotive News analysis of sticker-price changes during the past 12 months by those two groups, which account for 94 percent of the cars and light trucks sold in the United States.
The study found that Japanese brand vehicles are an average of $41 less than they were a year ago. Vehicles sold by General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and what used to be Chrysler Corp. are an average of $338 more than they were at this time in 1998.
Because of rebates, the price activity of the past year has had little effect on buyers of new cars and trucks. Prices on most U.S.-badged vehicles are up, but on most models, the rebates more than balance the increase. Prices of Japanese-badged vehicles generally are steady or lower; the rebates are simply an extra incentive to deal.
Price strategies vary. In recent years, Ford Motor and the then-Chrysler Corp. have made small price hikes (or no hikes at all) at the autumn introduction of new models. Then, they have added larger amounts - interim increases - throughout the model year.
Conversely, General Motors prefers to give prices a real blast in the fall and add lesser amounts during the model year.
The table accompanying this article shows the tactics of the three companies during the past 12 months.
GM did not announce the dollar amount and the percentage amount of its price change at the beginning of the model year last fall.
However, an Automotive News analysis revealed that on a sales-weighted basis, the introductory prices of GM's 1999 models were an average of $395, or 1.75 percent, higher than the final prices of GM's 1998 models.
Some of that $395 was the result of product improvement or product upgrading, but that is a price increase.
All numbers and percentages in this article and the accompanying tables are sales-weighted. That means the price hike on each line of cars or trucks is weighted by that line's share of total corporate sales. That determines the effect of a specific line's increase on the average price for the corporation.
INTRO AND INTERIM
Following its $395 intro hike, GM has raised prices an average of $137 on 1999 models, for a total of $532, or 2.4 percent.
In the 1998 model year, GM's hikes were $295 at intro and $114 interim for a total of $409, or 1.8 percent.
As noted, the interim boosts are higher than the intro hikes for Ford Motor and the U.S.-badged makes of DaimlerChrysler.
For Ford Motor, the 1999 numbers are minus $37 intro and plus $177 interim; total, $140, or
For Chrysler-Dodge-Plymouth-Jeep, they are $23 intro and $270 interim; total, $293 or 1.3 percent.
That resulted in sales-weighted averages of $156 intro and $182 interim; total $338, or 1.5 percent, for GM, Ford Motor and the former Chrysler Corp.
Going back a year, the 1998 model year brought hikes of $8 and $147, total $155 for Ford; and $23 and $147, total $170 for the then Chrysler Corp.
The sales-weighted Big 3 total price hikes for the 1998 model year were $136 intro, $133 interim; total $269, or 1.2 percent.
JAPANESE HOLD THE LINE
The Japanese makers have faced no currency exchange calamities in the 1999 model year, and U.S. content is strong.
Thus, they were able to price for price's sake instead of having to make up for conditions beyond their control.
As a result, five of the Japanese companies cut their prices and another is unchanged.
The only significant hike was $476 for Lexus, but that amounted to an increase of only 1.2 percent for that luxury brand.
Acura reduced prices an average of $1,676 at intro time - without stripping its cars.
Nissan prices are down an average of $367 in the past 12 months.
Toyota, the Japanese kingpin, reduced prices an average of $45 at intro time, then raised them $63 in April for a net hike of $18.
For the 11 Japanese makes that sell in this country, prices went down an average of $62 at introduction time last fall and then rose an average of $21 in the ensuing months. The net dip was $41, or 0.2 percent.
In the 1998 model year, the Japanese posted an intro hike of $153 and added an interim boost of $32 for a total of $185 or 1 percent.