New Cars: October Sales Up, But Good Deals Remain

Last Updated Nov 3, 2010 6:22 PM EDT

Powered by an improving economy and the shiny new 2011 models that started appearing in showrooms last month, auto makers reported bang-up October sales. On an annualized basis, sales of light vehicles passed the 12 million mark, the highest since August 2009, when Cash for Clunkers boosted the market. Strip out that outlier, and it's the strongest month since September, 2008 before the Great Recession had fully taken hold. Despite the increased demand, continued heavy spending on rebates and other consumer enticements means plenty of good deals remain for buyers

The improved numbers show that some buyers have been willing to pay more for the just-released 2011 models. Chrysler -- with a new Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV -- is up 37% over a year earlier. Among other companies with strong new lineups, Honda sales are up 20% over October a year ago, Ford climbed 19% and Hyundai shot up 38%. General Motors said its sales rose 13% for its core brands, with strong demand for pickups and SUVs. (Even when compared with the bigger GM, which included Saab, Hummer, and Saturn, sales were up 3.5%)

Meanwhile consumers are still comparison shopping -- a new survey by Kelley Blue Book shows that 72 percent of shoppers at its kbb.com web site are waiting to find the right deal before making the decision to buy a new car.

A good place to start looking for a that deal is where manufacturers are funding rebates and low-rate financing. Chrysler, now owned by Fiat, spent $3,629 per vehicle, General Motors $3,472, Ford $3,027 and Honda $2,312 -- its highest level of the year. The biggest promotional spending of all came on high-end luxury vehicles: GM's Cadillac Escalade, at $7,196 per SUV sold, is dwarfed by $15,227 from Mercedes-Benz per S-Class sedan, according to figures from Edmunds.com.

Below I've listed four of the best incentive-driven deals among non-luxury cars and trucks. Detroit-based companies, which have had trouble shaking free of consumer rebates, dominate the list, With rebates available on both 2010 and 2011 models, your own best deal depends on whether you will keep the vehicle a long time or trade it in after a few years. If you plan long-term ownership, just look for the best price. Otherwise the immediate depreciation in value for a 2010 model -- it's already a year old in used-car terms -- could offset the savings you get on the deal.

Chevrolet Silverado This 2010 model contributed to GM's pickup sales surge partly because it carries a $4,500 customer rebate. Reviewers surveyed by U.S. News ranked the Silverado the No. 1 full-size pickup truck with a combination of ruggedness, capability and comfort. The 1500 regular cab model with typical options (rated at 15 mpg city, 20 highway) is selling for an average of $17,902 with the big rebate, according to Edmunds.com. That's a 23% discount off the sticker price. You'll get a $2,000 rebate on the 2011 model.

Ford Fusion The 2011 model of this popular midsize sedan is a better deal than the 2010, thanks to a $2,000 rebate. Redesigned last year, the Fusion scored a hit with reviewers for its upscale interior and Ford's SYNC system, which lets you give voice commands to cell phones and music players. The base model 2011 Fusion S (rated at 22 mpg city, 29 highway) is selling at an average $18,250 or 14% below sticker price, with the rebate. The 2010 equivalent Fusion is selling at $19,162 with just a $1,000 rebate.

GMC Acadia Like the Fusion, the 2011 version of this mid-size SUV looks like the best deal. Reviewers say the Acadia is perfect for families that really need a minivan but don't like that image. With seating for seven or eight, large cargo capacity and decent gas mileage for the class (17 mpg city, 24 highway), the 2011 Acadia is selling for about $30,000 after a $2,000 rebate. That's 9% below sticker price and just $775 more than the 2010 model.

Chrysler 300 It's an aging but still stylish design, and for those who love the muscular look and the 360-horsepower V-8 engine, the 2010 is going at a discount. The 2011 model is due later this year. Reviewers like the power and style, calling it a family sedan with attitude. The Hemi version with the V-8 (16 mpg city, 25 highway) is selling for about $36,700 after a $3,000 rebate, according to Edmunds. That's nearly 13% below sticker price.

Photos courtesy of the manufacturers

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.