Used But Not Used Up: March auto prices sink less rapidly in pre-owned market overall, rise in category that includes Sprinter van

Used passenger vans such as this 2009 Dodge (now Daimler) Sprinter showed the best price performance in March, according to new findings from Black Book. Daimler announced it is building a Sprinter assembly plant in Ladson (Provided).

Not-so-old vehicles slowed their decline in value this spring and in some cases rose in price, with Ladson-assembled Sprinter vans perched in the strongest sector.

The used car findings rely on information from Georgia-based Black Book, which provides up-to-date pricing information on the auto industry.

The venture found the average price of a used car or truck for model years 2009-13 depreciated — or lost value over time — by an average of 0.7 percent during March. That’s “slightly less” depreciation than in February.

According to Black Book, domestic cars surged by 0.9 percent in March from the previous month, import cars dropped 0.9 percent, domestic trucks fell by 0.3 percent and import trucks lost 0.9 percent in price from February.

Full-size passenger vans showed the strongest value “retention” in March, up 1.5 percent, the vehicle-data company noted.

Vans in the sector include the Dodge Sprinter, Freightliner Sprinter, Ford E-Series and Chevrolet G-Series, according to Black Book. Sprinter sold under the Freightliner name as a Mercedes-Benz sister brand and then as Dodge during the ill-fated mid 2000s merger of German company Daimler and domestic Chrysler Corp.

As the companies unwound, Sprinter stayed part of Dodge for a few years before reverting to Daimler. The German company disclosed last month that Ladson’s re-assembly plant would be home to a full-fledged manufacturing operation providing 1,200 jobs when built out.

Black Book says that vehicles in the full-size passenger van category ended March with an average price of $19,468, a 3.3 percent increase from $18,848 a year earlier.

Hit hardest during March were used luxury SUVs, depreciating as a segment by 1.5 percent. Vehicles included the 2009-13 Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti QX56, Mercedes-Benz G Class and Lexus LX.

They finished the month with an average $34,597 price, off 13 percent from year-ago levels of $39,770.

Cargo minivans likewise showed 1.5 percent depreciation in March.

The auto information company notes that average pre-recession annual depreciation landed between 15 and 18 percent. It expects 2015 depreciation to be near 14.5 percent.

Three car segments — entry-level up 0.1 percent, upper mid-size up 0.6 percent and full-size up 0.9 percent — showed monthly increases in price while premium sporty cars recorded the largest decrease, off 1.2 percent.

“Both car and truck values held up high throughout November and December of 2014. This early buying took the steam out of the usual spring time seasonality increase and resulted in more stable prices over the last few months,” said Anil Goyal, vice president of Automotive Valuation and Analytics at Black Book.

“The data also show that slightly larger cars were in more demand this tax season, perhaps as a result of low gas prices and improved overall strength in the broader economy,” the vice president said.

Among other pricing information on used vehicles:

- Highest priced by sector as of the end of March was premium sporty cars at $46,147. The group includes BMW 6-Series, Chevrolet Corvette, Mercedes-Benz SL and Cadillac XLR.

- Lowest value by category was entry-level cars at $7,699.

- The only segment that saw a price increase in the past year was full-size passenger vans and wagons, up 3.3 percent. It was followed by full-size cargo vans, down 1.4 percent; and compact SUVs, off 3.7 percent.

- The steepest depreciation over the year was the prestige luxury car group, falling 17.3 percent.

Founded in 1955, Black Book said it has “continuously evolved to ensure that it achieves its goal of delivering mission-critical information to its customers, along with the insight necessary to successfully buy, sell, and lend.”

National Auto Research, a division of Hearst Business media, publishes Black Book data daily.

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