Looking for a new car? Maybe you have your heart set on something fuel-efficient because of $4 gas? Or perhaps you had a good year and feel you're ready to move up to something with a touch of style, luxury or class?
Get in line. Despite tough times for the auto industry in general, there are some car models--across a broad range of classes and sizes--that are so popular that auto manufacturers are selling them faster than they can build them.
The range of hard-to-get vehicles is as diverse as consumer tastes and budgets in general. Case in point: As expected, the most-wanted vehicle on our list is the fuel-sipping $21,500 Toyota Prius hybrid sedan that gets an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) combined estimate of 46 mpg. No. 2 on the list? The not-so-expected gas-guzzling $74,700 Lexus LX Series full-size luxury SUV that gets a combined 14 mpg.
Behind The Numbers
To compile our list of the most-wanted vehicles, we used information provided by Ward's Automotive Group, a publisher of industry trade news and data, as well as automaker-supplied days' supply data as a measure of dealer inventory levels.
A low days' supply and low retail turn rate--the amount of time a car spends on a dealer's lot--means some dealerships may have sold out of a vehicle, have only a few on the lot or may not have the style or trim you desire.
Vehicles with the lowest days' supply made the initial list (Ward's says the industry average is 60 days), which was pared down using J.D. Power and Associates' retail turn rate to determine how quickly a model sold in the month of May. The average retail turn rate for all vehicles is 61 days; we only considered vehicles with a rate of 40 days or less, well below the industry average.
So how did the LX 570, in an age of $4-a-gallon gas, make it to the second spot on the most-wanted list?
Even though the premium SUV seems like an anomaly in a time when consumers are snapping up small cars, auto analysts are quick to note that there's still a demand for luxury vehicles and that the SUV market, while struggling, isn't dead. Furthermore, popular vehicles that undergo a redesign, like the Scion xD and the LX 570, often experience an initial surge in sales, says Tom Libby, senior director at J.D. Power and Associates.
"In fact, Lexus is still working through a pre-sold list of loyal Lexus owners who wanted to get the premium SUV as soon as it hit the market," says Curt McAllister, a Toyota spokesman. "Its new styling and creature comforts appeal to loyal Lexus and premium SUV shoppers."
The LX 570 had an average eight-day supply of vehicles at the end of May and the average turn rate for each model was eight days. It has a more powerful 5.7-liter V8 engine producing 383 horsepower, and leather seats with power extendable front seat cushions for added comfort. It also features new technology, such as wide-view front and side monitors located in the grille and under the passenger side-view mirror to aid drivers with hard-to-view areas.
Waiting List For Luxury
If a high-end SUV isn't your style, but you do hope to make that first step into the luxury segment with, say, the all-new Audi A5, you're going to have to wait a little while before you drive off the lot. The luxury midsize coupe and the high-performance S5 model are selling faster than Audi can make them.
The A5 launched in March of this year (the S5 came out in November 2007) with a base manufacturer's suggested retail price of $41,200, but according to Ward's, at the end of May there was an average eight-day supply of A5s on dealers' lots. Comparatively, the retail turn rate, at 39 days, is higher than that of other cars on the list. But since this is a nationwide average and the days' supply is low, a dealership in one part of the country may have exactly the A5 the customer wants, while a dealer elsewhere has a waiting list.
It's a similar situation for the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the more modestly priced Benz ($33,675), with an average 29 days' supply of cars. While the supply is higher than that of other cars on the list, this model sells very quickly, with a turn rate of only 26 days, meaning that, on average, the C-Class is sold faster than it's produced.
Finding A Fuel-Efficient Car
Toyota is preparing to launch an updated and improved Prius later this year and therefore won't increase production of the 2008 model. Typically, sales trail off as consumers wait for the new model to launch, but that hasn't happened as gas prices continued to soar beyond $4 a gallon and threaten to reach $5 a gallon this summer.
Demand for the Prius has increased, but the "limited supply of Prius in the pipeline is due to a product plan based on our overall production limitations at the Prius factory" in Japan, says Sona Iliffe-Moon, a Toyota spokeswoman. "We are currently running at full capacity and have been for two years. All along we said we would have a supply ceiling."
But times were different then.
"We saw a major shift in May to small and compact conventional cars," says Libby. "Automakers started May with lean inventory. But the percent of compact cars sold in May was 20.3%, up over 15.8% in May last year. They will have to increase production of small cars."
Diane Elnick, industry analyst at Ward's Automotive Group, says that "if demand continues at the high pace it did in May for these vehicles, automakers will have a hard time providing them."
A model that may be facing this problem is the Honda Civic and its hybrid version, which are among the most-wanted vehicles. The gas-powered Civic gets a respectable EPA combined estimated 29 mpg; the hybrid version, 42 mpg. Tim Bothell, new car director at Showcase Honda in Phoenix, Ariz., says 75% of his Civic sales are hybrids. And with Toyota capping production on the Prius, demand for the Civic could increase even more.
"We are not quite at a waiting-list point yet, but we are approaching that level," says Bothell. Ward's says there was a nationwide average 21-day supply of all Civics at the end of May; according to J.D. Power, Civics turn quickly, at an average of only 25 days.
Whether you have a taste for a luxury model or a simple fuel-efficient one, the good news is that you have plenty of options. The bad news: You might have to be willing to wait for the one you really want.
By Jacqueline Mitchell, Forbes.com