Now, there are higher prices for base materials like steel and aluminum. There are suppliers being forced to raise wages sharply to keep assembly lines operating. There are semiconductor manufacturers stretched too thin to provide enough computer chips to make as many cars as consumers wish to buy. There have even been shortages of resin, needed in the plastics that are part of a car, caused by Texas winter storms this year. And adding to it all, there are logjams of shipping capacity for materials imported from overseas.
“It’s almost like a patient who’s fighting cancer and heart disease and diabetes all at the same time,” Mr. Burris said. The power that automakers usually hold to dissuade suppliers from increasing prices is breaking down, he said, amid the urgency to obtain supplies.
And as automakers throttle production, there have been unusual dynamics in the retail side of the market.
The inability of automakers to produce at full speed, combined with strong consumer demand, shows up in both obvious (prices are higher than usual) and less obvious ways, said Ivan Drury, senior manager for insights at Edmunds, a publisher of auto industry information. In the past, the “manufacturer’s suggested retail price” was generally a mere suggestion, with dealers negotiating actual sale prices $2,000 to $3,000 below that level for an average car. Now, new cars are typically selling at or only slightly below the suggested retail price, he said.
And dealers are resorting to other techniques that restrict sales. With inventories lean, buyers seeking a particularly in-demand car may need to commit to buying it before it has arrived on the lot, sight unseen. Some dealers, he said, will refuse to sell to people from outside the dealer’s area, to ensure that the buyer will generate continuing service revenue.
Things are even more wild in the used-car market, where the down-and-up last 16 months for the rental car industry, among other factors, has caused a severe shortage and steep price increases. Used cars and trucks were a major source of overall consumer price inflation in April and May.
Mr. Drury doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon. According to Edmunds data, the average trade-in value of a car was still rising through the first three weeks of June, up an additional 2.9 percent after increasing a combined 21 percent in April and May.