There is almost never a better time to buy a new car than during a recession, and this downturn appears to be minting once-in-a-lifetime offers. "Over the next six to nine months deals will be made like never before," says Scott Painter, CEO of TrueCar.com, which tracks vehicle transaction prices. The global auto industry is on its back. It is on pace to sell just 9 million vehicles this year, down from more than 15 million a few years ago.
Manufacturers and dealers are desperate to move their inventory. So incentives are flying. Zero-percent financing is once again commonly available at GM, Ford, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Toyota, Nissan and Mazda. Even BMW has an attractive 0.9% rate on certain vehicles. On top of that, the government has made sales and excise taxes on a new vehicle bought this year tax deductible without itemizing. The government is also standing behind warranties on GM and Chrysler vehicles, should those troubled car companies be unable to live up to their promises. In addition, it appears that a cash-for-clunkers program will be approved, giving certain car buyers an above-market value for their trade in. Aside from all of this, vehicle prices have been slashed to well below the suggested retail price. Top deals now, according to TrueCar.com, include the Mercury Mountaineer SUV at a discount of 19.3%; the Porche 911 (-10.6%) at the high end; Toyota's Camry Hybrid (-9.4%) and Highlander Hybrid (-8.7%); and among compacts the Kia Optima (-30.8%) and Ford Fusion (-23.5%). Prices could start to firm by the end of year as weak dealers go out of business and carmakers cut back production, constricting supply in the face of likely pent up consumer demand.