Top cars for below prime buyers

March 11, 2014 12:00 AM

There's one thing that all below-prime buyers have in common: They are focused on getting the most for their money when purchasing a vehicle. This emphasis on value means they want the most fuel-efficient models which require minimal vehicle maintenance and are not going to demand frequent auto repair. As brands begin to realize that this segment makes up a substantial portion of today's consumers, they are beginning to tailor their offerings to meet the needs and budgets of these cost-conscious customers. In fact, these non-prime customers are predicted to be a major driving force for U.S. auto sales in 2014. So the question is, which options are most attractive to these buyers? A recent report from listed the top 10 new and used car choices for below-prime buyers based on data from last year

Models that made their mark
Interestingly,'s data revealed that the list of most purchased vehicles differed completely from the top selling vehicles in the U.S. Kia, which is a brand that has a reputation for offering optimal fuel-economy for the price, performed well on the below-prime new vehicle list. Meanwhile, Chevrolet dominated both new and used below-prime categories. Unsurprisingly, the midsize Dodge Avenger and Kia Optima tied for first place in the list of Top Ten New Vehicles Purchased by Below-Prime Car Buyers. The Ford Focus and Kia Soul followed close behind, while the Dodge Journey slid in at No. 5. One reason why the Focus may continue to be popular with the non-prime customer is that it's available in either a hatchback or a sedan, and both are well-designed and affordably-priced. Chevrolet took both the sixth and seventh slots with the Malibu and Cruze, respectively. One reason buyers may have capitalized on the Malibu is that many dealerships were offering this model at a competitive price in order to get the 2013 model off their lot and make room for a new update this year. Rounding out the list were the Chrysler 200, Kia Rio and finally, the Nissan Sentra.

As far as used vehicles went, the Nissan Altima topped the list of most-purchased cars by below-prime customers. The Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Ram 1500 and Ford F150 took the second, third and fourth spots, while the Chevrolet Impala snagged spot No. 5. At No. 6 was the Dodge Charger, followed by the Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord and finally, in 10th place, the Ford Fusion.

Identifiable trends
One obvious trend is that below-prime buyers on the whole continue to seek out affordable compacts, trucks and other automobiles that offer maximum value, even if they aren't the most stylish models. Clearly, Kia is striking a chord with the sub-prime buying segment. Seeing as Kia and Nissan are the only imported brands in the top 10 new cars list, it's also apparent that domestic brands are resonating better with this target consumer. It's also worth noting that there isn't a single truck or SUV on the list. It seems that the Dodge Journey and Kia Soul, which are affordable in comparison to typical SUVs, are filling the space needs for families instead.

The Optima, Soul, Rio and Forte all offer 10-year/100K mile warranties. So considering the fact that they all made the top 10 list for new vehicles, it's clear that longer manufacturer warranties are a key factor for this buyer, in addition to fuel efficiency.

Despite the fact that there are no trucks or SUVs trucks on the new vehicle list, they demonstrated strong demand with credit-challenged customers on the pre-owned list. Non-prime used car buyers also seem to prefer domestics, as they dominated the list and only three import brands, Honda, Nissan and Toyota, cracked the top 10.

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