The severe winter weather affecting much of the U.S. has been a curse for drivers, but it's proving to be a blessing for car buyers.
Data from TrueCar shows that dealer inventories are at their highest levels since 2009 and incentives are at their highest point since 2010. "If you're willing to brave the elements,the next 30 to 45 days will be an epic time to buy," said TrueCar CEO Scott Painter in an email. According to TrueCar, the average incentive given to consumers rose 5 percent to $2,633 on a year-over-year basis and gained 3.3 percent from January.
This view was echoed by Bill Fox, vice chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, who owns four dealerships in upstate New York.
"It's a perfect storm," he said, adding that the deals are especially good now on pick-up trucks. "If you are a consumer, this is as good as it's going to get. ... There is a lot of inventory out there."
George Magliano, an economist with IHS Global Insight, noted that the weather has slowed down the economy as a whole, as well as car sales.
"People are jockeying for position in the marketplace" he said. "You are not to clean up the inventory that fast, and we are not going to recoup the lost sales in one month."
Officials from the Big Three U.S. automakers deny that they are stuck with excess inventory because of the cold winter. General Motors (GM) and Ford Motor (F) , the top two U.S. automakers, reported declines in U.S. February sales declines of 1 percent and 6 percent respectively. No. 3 player Chrysler, a unit of Fiat Chrysler, saw a 11 percent gain, while Japan's Nissan surged 16 percent and Toyota dropped 4 percent. General Motors, Chrysler and Nissan posted sales that exceeded analysts' expectations while Ford's lagged them.
Light vehicle sales are expected to top 16 million this year, well above the 10 million or so sold in 2009, when the economy was in the midst of a recession.
Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell said that neither inventory nor incentive levels were anything unusual. Nonetheless, she agrees that it is a good time to buy a car.
"It's been a good time to buy a car for some time," she said, noting that interest rates remain near historic lows. "March will be more of the same."
People interested in cars made by Japanese makers might get better deals in March since it's the end of their fiscal years, according to Caldwell.
The U.S. companies, for their part, say things are going well even as the Northeast endures yet another snow storm.
"We've been quite disciplined in our incentive spend," said Ralph Kissel, a spokesman for Chrysler, in an email. "And our dealers have not allowed the severe winter weather to negatively impact them."
General Motors spokesman James Cain noted that North America's largest automaker ran its annual President's Day Sale at Chevrolet and GMC. New programs were introduced March 1. "But we haven't done anything specifically driven by the weather," he said in an email.
Added Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle, "While the weather has been less than ideal, it has not influenced our incentive spending."