Many consumers are dealing with the higher prices by borrowing over longer terms. Auto loans approved in December had an average term of 69 months, compared with 62 months a decade earlier, Edmunds found.
That has helped keep monthly car payments from climbing as fast as sales prices. Still, those payments for loans generated in December averaged $577, up from $499 in 2014.
“That’s really the number to watch,” Mr. Wakefield of AlixPartners said, and so far the consumer can handle it.
For Mr. Manley’s company, Fiat Chrysler, consumer concerns about affordability have paid off. Last year, it introduced a brawnier Ram pickup available with a large touch screen and other advanced technologies. But Fiat Chrysler has continued making a more basic version, which can sell for $6,000 to $8,000 less than competing models. “We have a truck that is a great value,” Mr. Manley said.
Whatever the value, though, the cost is pushing some buyers away from new cars.
Last August, when Pete Krupsky went to look to replace his high-mileage Honda Civic, he headed straight to his dealer’s used-car lot. “I didn’t want a new car because I can’t afford the $25,000 or whatever the price is,” said Mr. Krupsky, a hockey play-by-play announcer in Rosewood, Mich.
He found a 2017 Honda Accord with 19,000 on its odometer — for $18,000. “It’s the most luxurious car I’ve ever had,” he added.
Susan Beachy contributed research.