During the first year of the pandemic, the inventory of new cars in the U.S. dropped to a third of what it was before lockdown, and car dealerships, usually cacophony of colorful, new vehicles, began looking like barren swaths of asphalt. The causes of the scant supply were many, from labor shortages to lack of raw materials, especially computer chips. As a result, in 2020 the auto industry endured one of its worst declines in new car sales since the 1980s. And much like the virus, supply-chain shortages have not let up. Shopping for a car is yet another reminder—as if you really needed one—that we are not yet living in a post-pandemic era.
Still, the world keeps turning and the wheels need to as well, so what’s a person in need of a new car to do? We polled several local dealerships to find out—and while each reported that they are still in the midst of low inventories, they suggested ways to keep moving.
Alex Leyva, Sales Manager, Kia of Alhambra
Best-selling car pre-pandemic: Kia Soul or Kia Optima
Most in-demand car currently: K5
Easiest car to get now: “We have a few Kia Niros in stock and also the new 2023 Kia Sports. Right now, if I look outside, I only have seven cars out—it’s very tough to tell you which one has the best availability, because probably I have one or two of each.”
When do you think inventory will go back to pre-pandemic levels?: “I don’t have an answer for that because it depends on the production of chips.”
Best advice for shopping for a car right now: “If you’re interested in a vehicle, you have to come to a dealership and work your deal before—agree to the numbers—and once the vehicle gets here, the car is yours. By the time the car arrives to the dealership, that car is already sold. So, if you want a car, go to the dealer and expect to wait a month or two for that car to arrive.”
Desiree Castillo, Sales Consultant, Lexus of Glendale
Most in-demand car currently: “The hybrids because of the gas prices. There’s a high demand on hybrid and electrics.”
Easiest car to get now: “Right now everything is high demand because of the chip shortage and the market. The new normal is we get a couple of cars in and the majority are already pre-sold.”
When do you think inventory will go back to pre-pandemic levels?: “There’s no time estimate.”
Best advice for shopping for a car right now: “It’s challenging but I would say now is a good time to buy. I know that people say that the market is up and that everything’s really expensive, but the rates are going to go higher. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future—and if you need a car at the moment, why wait?”
Chad Najjar, General Manager, Toyota of Pasadena
Best-selling car pre-pandemic: Toyota RAV4
Most in-demand car currently: RAV4 Hybrid and the Prius models, including the Prius Prime (plug-in hybrid)
Easiest car to get now: “We have a shortage of all of them, but the non-hybrids—something like a Highlander non-hybrid, or a Toyota 4Runner, which is not a hybrid—or even a Camry non-hybrid or an Avalon non-hybrid. Those are a little bit more available, but Camry and Avalon are in short supply.”
When do you think inventory will go back to pre-pandemic levels?: “There’s not a definite answer yet, not even from the factory or the manufacturer. They’re telling us the rest of this year is going to be pretty tough. Next year they’re hopeful that it will improve, but they don’t really have an idea of how much.”
Best advice for shopping for a car right now: “Start right away. We allow you to reserve a vehicle that is incoming—it could be a week or two, it could be four to six weeks, but it you’ve already put your name on it, it’s yours. If it arrives at the dealership and it hasn’t been reserved, it usually sells the same day.
Two-Wheel Solution: The California Cycleway
The difficulties around finding a new car and the expense in keeping it on the road have some drivers looking into other modes of transportation, such as public transit and bikes. Alan Purnell, owner of Pasadena Cyclery, which has been in business since 1976, says “anytime gas goes up to $5 a gallon, bike sales go up.” Much like the demand for hybrid and electric cars, bike sales have increased during the pandemic, not only to counter the gas prices, but also because cycling allows both safe exercise and, as Purnell puts it, “some pleasure in life.” Bike sales also face supply-chain issues, and while some of Purnell’s e-bikes are on backorder, his shop currently has “more bikes than we’ve ever had.” For cyclists who use public transportation, he suggests a folding bike. Biking around Pasadena is “getting better and better all the time,” thanks to bike lanes, he says.
In 1900, Pasadena unveiled the world’s first elevated bikeway, planned as a 9-mile, raised wooden path built specifically for bicycle traffic to connect Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles. Only about a mile of the path was built, starting at the Hotel Green and ending near The Raymond Hotel, but this lost relic remains evidence of the city’s penchant for creative solutions to getting around.