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High prices blamed for dip in purchase of new vehicles

Consumers are less willing to buy new vehicles than they were a year ago because they say prices are too high, a survey says.

The percentage of people who said they are most likely to buy a new vehicle at a dealership fell to 68 percent from 73 percent, the first drop in four years, said the survey by the Dohring Co.People who said they were most likely to buy a used car from a dealership grew to 32 percent from 27 percent, the auto research firm said.

"It's the prices of new vehicles that are pushing people into used vehicles," said Rik Kinney, Dohring's senior vice president.

New vehicles on average cost $20,200 last year, compared with $9,000 on average for a used car, according to CNW Marketing Research and ADT Automotive, which auctions used cars and released a separate report Sunday.

Automakers rejected the notion that their new cars are overpriced.

"We're as competitive as anyone else in the business," said Jac Nasser, president of automotive operations for Ford Motor Co.

The automakers held most new vehicle prices to little or no increase last year and said they plan the same for this year.

"The fact is the market isn't accepting much in price increases," said G. Richard Wagoner Jr., head of North American operations for General Motors Corp.

The Dohring survey also found that nearly one in five buyers wants a sport utility vehicle, up 50 percent from last year. Almost half of consumers say they will use the Internet when buying their next vehicle, compared with 32 percent who have already used it.

The survey last month of 1,253 Americans who plan to buy a vehicle had a sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percent. It was released at the National Automobile Dealers Association meeting here.

U.S. consumers bought 41 million used vehicles in 1997, according to CNW, compared with about 15.1 million new vehicles. Both figures have remained roughly steady for the last four years.

In the Dohring survey, the top two reasons consumers gave for preferring used cars was the high price of new cars and the affordability of used cars. The study found that almost twice as many people prefer a higher-end used vehicle for $15,000 than a new vehicle for the same price.