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In a Cooling Economy, Used-Car Shoppers Make Changes

April 04, 2001|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ah, the difference a pending recession and the threat of rising fuel prices can make.

Late last fall, with the economy booming, Internet used-car seller IMotors Inc. said that image vehicles like BMWs and Corvettes dominated the wish lists of shoppers logging in with pricing requests.

More recently, though, IMotors' California customers are more likely to be looking for Honda Civics.

The quarterly data are based on customer requests received from California car shoppers by San Francisco-based IMotors, one of the largest used-car sellers on the Internet.

Californians buy about three times as many used cars and trucks as new ones, and what we buy says a lot about us and our times. While import brands continue to make inroads against the domestics in the new-car market, IMotors shoppers shifted toward typically less-expensive domestic brands in the December-February period.

IMotors doesn't sell cars or trucks that are more than 5 years old, and it mainly sells to computer-savvy people who aren't afraid to buy through an online marketer. The company, at http://www.imotors.com, combats that fear with a money-back guarantee and says it averages almost 18,000 requests a week in California alone. IMotors is active in 46 major markets in 19 states.

Because it hunts down and sells only the vehicles its customers request, IMotors' data reveal differences that reflect the culture, driving conditions and economies of each region.

In Los Angeles and Orange counties, for example, the most sought-after models from December through February were Honda Civics and the Ford Ranger compact pickup. That's quite a contrast from the Corvettes and Range Rovers that topped shopping lists from the two counties in the prior quarter.

And while San Francisco customers preferred bohemian BMWs over all other models last time, Fords accounted for the highest volume this time--as they did in Southern California. And Bay Area shoppers' preference for import models now centers on less-expensive Audi A4s and more fuel-efficient Volkswagen Jettas.

Here is the latest list of the most popular makes and models of used vehicles sought by IMotors customers in Southern California, with San Francisco tossed in for those who simply have to make us-versus-them comparisons.

By Manufacturer:

Los Angeles: Ford, Honda, Nissan, Chevrolet, Toyota.

Orange County: Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda, BMW.

Riverside/San Bernardino: Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Honda, Toyota.

San Francisco: Ford, Honda, Toyota, BMW, Chevrolet.

By Model:

Los Angeles: Honda Civic, Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima, Ford Mustang, Ford F150 pickup.

Orange County: Ford Ranger, Ford F150, Ford Mustang, Ford Explorer, Honda Accord.

Riverside/San Bernardino: Ford Explorer, Toyota Tacoma compact pickup, Ford F150, Honda Civic, Honda Odyssey.

San Francisco: Audi A4, Volkswagen Jetta, Honda Civic, Honda Accord, BMW 328.

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