The latest survey, for the first quarter, was conducted Jan. 28 to Feb. 8, on the heels of the longest government shutdown in history and in the midst of a polar vortex that impacted much of the country. Of the 1,164 respondents, 617 were franchised dealers and 547 were independents. The survey tracks how dealers view their market on a scale from weak to strong. A score higher than 50 indicates optimism, while a score below 50 indicates a negative outlook.
The bloated optimism of last year is beginning to fade, the survey found. Sentiment is weaker for franchised dealers, down to 50 — the lowest level Cox has reported since the survey's launch — from 55 in the first quarter of 2018. For franchised and independent dealers combined, sentiment is 48, down from 49 a year earlier.
More than half of franchised dealers are concerned that tariffs will drive up vehicle prices at their stores, according to the index, with 64 percent wary of higher prices on all new vehicles and 63 percent worried about higher import-vehicle prices.