Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Dealers can't get enough Japanese cars to meet rising demand, especially for gas sippers

Photo: New vehicles damaged by the tsunami waters sit lined in a Toyota parking lot at Sendai port, Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan, Monday, March 28, 2011. (AP / Wally Santana)

Wake up and good morning. Think the impact of Japan's earthquake/tsunami is in a galaxy far, far, away from Tampa Bay. Consider this: At AutoWay's Lexus of Tampa Bay in Tampa, the dealership has about 55 RX 350 sport-utility vehicles in stock and sells around two dozen a month. But only one new RX 350 is scheduled to arrive in the next few weeks from manufacturer Toyota Motor Corp.

"Do the math," Michael Jackson, CEO of Fort Lauderdale giant AutoNation, which operates as AutoWay in the Tampa Bay area. "We are going to be out of certain models at some point." His remarks were reported in today's Wall Street Journal story.

It's not just a supply problem. The shortage of Toyota and other vehicles from Japan is hitting here just as buyers are starting to show up at dealerships. Says the Journal: "Dealers of all sizes began this year expecting a surge in auto sales, and AutoNation, owner of 246 franchises in 15 states, was no different. But the quake, because it has hobbled production by Japanese auto makers, has put many dealers in a bind: They're running short of Japanese-brand cars as demand is rising."

So what happens when demand outstrips supply? Prices on certain vehicles are rising. Says USA Today: "The nations' best-selling hybrid, the Toyota Prius, is in such demand that its average sales price is higher than its original price, new surveys suggest. But unlike two years ago, when surging gas prices were primarily driving outsized demand for the 50-miles-per-gallon car, this time publicity about possible supply shortages this summer because of Japan's earthquake and tsunami also is bringing in buyers."

Auto industry analyst web site says the average transaction price for a new Prius was $64 more than its average sticker price of $25,926 in the first week of May. Even a used 2010 Prius with 22,500 miles on the odometer was selling on the private-party market for an average of $24,705 last month - not bad for a car that, when new, has a starting price of $22,150, according to Kelley Blue Book, USA Today reports.

Bottom line? As the Detroit News notes here, summer car shoppers on the hunt for big discounts and ample selection may be disappointed this year. Vehicle inventories are tight, especially for hot-selling fuel-efficient models, and prices are climbing.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times

Posted by Robert Trigaux at 7:00:37 am on May 16, 2011