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Analysts: Employee discounts saved car buyers...

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Link: http://news.yahoo.com/s/sv/20050825/tc_sil...ey/_www12466179

By Ely Portillo, Knight Ridder
Wed Aug 24, 8:04 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Employee discounts have saved car buyers only a little more money than the incentives automakers have used traditionally to clear out end-of-the-model-year inventories, some auto-industry analysts contend.

They say the discounts are a fresh way to package incentives that have always been available at the end of a car model year.

While employee-discount campaigns left the ``impression of large discounts,'' they ``were, in fact, in line with seasonal norms . . . of the incentive programs they replaced,'' according to a new analysis by investment firm Goldman Sachs.

An analyst for Edmunds.com valued the total incentives in July 2005, the peak of employee-discount marketing, at just $96 more than in July 2004.

Mark McCready, pricing director for online car broker CarsDirect.com, a competitor of retail car dealers, agreed. Employee discounts, he said, ``were just slightly better than what you could negotiate on your own before the deal.''

U.S. automakers disagreed. ``You'd have to be a pretty tenacious and successful haggler'' to have matched this year's deals in 2004, said Ford spokesman Jim Cain. He called Ford's employee discounts ``the best program we have ever offered.''

Paul Ballew, a marketing analyst for GM-North America, said the savings were real. ``A consumer who bought a vehicle in June or July, their purchase price was lower than it would have been in April or May,'' he said.

``We think it's a great deal for our customers,'' said Chrysler Group spokesman Kevin McCormick, ``and our sales have shown customers feel the same.''

Employee-discount campaigns, which GM initiated June 1 and Ford and DaimlerChrysler picked up a month later, moved huge numbers of cars off of dealers' lots.

GM's June sales rose 41 percent over June 2004. For July, they were 15 percent higher than in July 2004. Ford's July sales were up 29 percent and DaimlerChrysler's up 25 percent. Overall, Americans bought a record 1.8 million new cars in July.

Market analysts say employee-discount plans helped a lot. Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for car information Web site Edmunds.com, credited ``the simplicity and no-haggle aspect'' of the plans, as well as the dollar savings.

But how much did buyers really save?

By Toprak's company's calculations, automakers offered an average of $2,885 in incentives per car in July 2004. This year in July, the incentives averaged $2,981. That's just $96 more.

Another way to put it: In July 2004, incentives such as rebates and discounted financing added up to an average 16.8 percent break on the manufacturer's suggested retail price, according to Edmunds.com's pricing analysis. The figure this year was within a half a percentage point of 2004's, according to Toprak.

In effect, said Toprak, automakers ``lowered their cash rebate and low APR spending and put the money they spent in these programs toward the employee pricing programs.''

``Seen in this light,'' wrote Goldman Sachs analyst Ed McKelvey, ``the employee-discount program was an enormously successful marketing coup.''

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I'm with you. I think a Saab 9-2x would be a nice cruiser for me next summer if they do the pricing right, one way or another.

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