Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A model for pricing Sienna LE 8-passenger minivans

I've spent the better part of two days meeting dealers and private sellers to look at Toyota Sienna LE 8-passenger minivans. As a social scientist and social worker, I'm interested in the variables that go into determining the cost of a car or a used car. I think I have a formula for how to price these cars. Here it is. All figures are in 2009 dollars, so if you find this blog entry in 2010 or later you'll need to adjust using a consumer price index adjustment.

For each year past the current year, deduct $360 from the "new price," which is $23,642. You can think of this as $1 per day in depreciation, as a proxy for wear and tear on the car. If the car is in better shape than you would expect, add a few hundred, or subtract a few hundred if it's in worse condition than you would expect, given its age. For every mile the minivan has been driven deduct 15.272 cents. That's it. The price this yields should be within a couple hundred dollars of your final price. If you're a buyer, don't settle for any price more than a few hundred over this predicted price, unless there is some extra special thing that has been added to the basic configuration of the van. If you can get $100 or $200 under this price you have a great deal. If you're a seller, don't sell for significantly under the model's predicted price.

My "new price" of $23,642 is about $200 under the lowest "new price" (dealer's invoice) I could find for any basic new 2009 Toyota Sienna LE with one power door and the radio/CD system. Typically a dealer can go under the official dealer's invoice by a small amount if they are eager to make a sale, because there are several hundred dollars the dealer has to use as incentives. Also, the dealer can make money on the sale if you finance, so the car can actually be sold to you within a couple hundred of the dealer's cost if the dealer can then make 4% or 5% interest off a loan to you for the better part of the price of the car. Were I a dealer, I would offer my cars to customers at a few hundred dollars over my actual final cost and then finance the buyers with rates about a quarter percent under the lowest reasonable home equity loan rate a buyer might be able to secure (to prevent buyers from getting home equity loans to pay off their car loan debts to me before I have collected all that 4% or 5% interest on their $20,000+ loans).

Various options on the Sienna LE can add $50 to $400 or $800 to the value of a new car, and if you're looking at a car with those extras you just add those numbers to the "new car" price. The only options I was including were one power door, the am/fm radio and cd player, and the 8 passenger configuration.

Incidentally, I should add here that we did significant research on various cars that could carry 6 or more people, and our second choice was a Mazda-V (Mazda 5). In fact, I would have purchased a new Mazda-V except that it wasn't quite big enough and our children felt they didn't have enough leg room in the back. The Mazda-V is more environmentally friendly than the Toyota Sienna, so it's rather a pity that we decided against it. I looked at some older Honda Odysseys and decided against that one. I also don't trust our local Honda dealership in Springfield. We looked at the Kia Sedona and Dodge Grand Caravan as well. Using some formulas to account for discounts or price rises related to quality, we still came down to a choice between the Mazda-V and Toyota Sienna. Keep in mind, I'm a buyer with almost no interest in how a car looks. My main concerns are reliability, safety, fuel efficiency, durability, and comfort.

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