Just twenty years ago, nearly all mainstream automakers had at least one model available for under $10,000. Hyundai's least-expensive 1991 model, the Excel, started at around $6,500, and the tiny Toyota Tercel cost just under $7,000. Even the cheapest Honda Civic, a 3-door hatchback, was just a hair over $7,000. But as inflation has crept steadily upward over the years, so too have car prices – and it's likely that 2011 may finally mark the end of the sub-$10,000 new car.
Just two new cars remain with sticker prices under $10,000: the manual-transmission, base-level Nissan Versa sedan, which starts at $9,990, without air-conditioning, power windows, locks, or mirrors; and the Hyundai Accent GL hatchback, which lists for just five dollars less, and boasts similar appointments.
But both Nissan and Hyundai are in the final stages of replacing their entry-level models, with updated versions of both the Versa and Accent expected to appear at next week's New York auto show. That means a price increase is due – and the days of the $10,000 car are likely numbered.
As it stands now, even the sub-$10,000 Versa and Accent only fall under the magic number if you don't factor in the destination charge – and that's if you can find one of the bottom-level models in the first place. Nothing else even comes close to the four-figure range, even factoring in automaker incentives. Other former "cheapest car" titleholders have either been cancelled, like the Hyundai Excel and Toyota Tercel, or have grown more expensive, like the one-time champion Kia Rio, which has since increased its base price to $12,295.
So what will replace $10,000 as the new starting line for finding a new car at a used-car price? The easy answer is $15,000 – a figure used by many automakers when trying to price their least-expensive cars. Nearly all versions of Toyota's compact Yaris start under $15,000, and Honda's smallest offering, the Fit, comes in just above the price point, starting at $15,100. Ford managed to price lower trim levels of its all-new Fiesta under $15,000, as well – and while prices haven't been set on the upcoming Chevrolet Sonic, slated to replace the subcompact Aveo, we'd bet it manages to slide in under $15,000, too.
The only possible hitch to $15,000 being the "new" $10,000 is if the inexpensive car makes a quick comeback. That's exactly what would happen if Indian automaker Tata makes good on its reported plans to sell the ultra-small Nano in the United States, as initial pricing for the miniature hatchback could be set as low as $4,000. Until then, this year's New York Auto Show may be the final blow to the $10,000 car.