For consumers who don't stretch their budgets for a bigger down payment or a higher monthly payment, Maione said a lease could be Plan B, or of course, financing a used car. "We've got plenty of other cars," he said. "We can find something to suit anybody's needs."
Patrick Manzi, senior economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said new-car intenders switching to used are "absolutely" a factor in NADA's 2019 light-vehicle sales forecast of 16.8 million, down about 3 percent from 17.3 million 2018. That's after four straight years of more than 17 million. More than a quarter of customers surveyed by Automotive News and DealerRater bought a used vehicle rather than the intended new vehicle to accommodate their budget.
Besides the financial difficulty, for new-vehicle buyers in the low-price range there simply are fewer vehicles to buy on the car side, Manzi said. "At the lower end of the new spectrum, from the domestics, they are pulling out of small cars altogether," he said, in favor of bigger, more expensive and more profitable light trucks.
"Look at Ford, the Ford Fiesta. Now, I think, their cheapest offering is the Ford EcoSport, which is like five grand higher than the old entry level. That's kind of a big jump," Manzi said. Ford Motor Co. is expected to phase out the Fiesta in North America this year.
"That's likely to affect those people who are income-constrained, or who are monthly payment-focused," he said. "A lot of those people are going to be priced out of the market and forced to buy used."
So, while the overall auto finance market doesn't seem to be hurting that badly, the low end of the new-car market is feeling the effect of the affordability problem, according to analysts.
Those low-end new-car customers will be challenged to find a new vehicle priced at $20,000 or less. Even those looking for a new vehicle between $20,000 and $29,000 may be pressed to find one.
In 2018, vehicles with a sticker price less than $20,000 accounted for just 2 percent of new-vehicle sales, Cox Automotive said. That number was already in the low single digits, declining steadily from 7 percent in 2012.
The $20,000-to-$29,999 sticker price is also on the decline, to 34 percent of new-vehicle volume in 2018, from 36 percent in 2017, or 47 percent in 2012, according to Cox Automotive.