Special Report

7 Car Brands That Cost Less Than They Used To

Opel Rekord A Every year car manufacturers tinker with their lineup and introduce new models in order to reach new customers and keep the brand image fresh. While this practice is important for automakers, it is the tried-and-true legacy brands — such as the Ford F-Series, the Toyota Corolla and Camry, and the Honda Civic — that represent the biggest sellers in the U.S. auto market.

Many of the U.S. auto industry’s long-running models have been available for sale in the U.S. market for decades. While the actual look of many vehicles has been updated so much that they are nearly unrecognizable compared to their initial design, manufacturers continue to use them because they appeal to so many new and loyal buyers. As these vehicles’ looks have changed, so have their price tags. A Ford F150 cost around $6,000 in 1980, which even in today’s dollars is about $8,700 less than what a modern F-150 cost. Some models, when adjusted for inflation, are actually much less expensive than their equivalents 35 years ago. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the seven legacy car models with falling prices.

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Every model that was available on the market 35 years ago had a lower price tag than today’s MSRPs. But when adjusting for inflation, these seven models cost thousands of dollars less. In 2014 dollars, a Mercedes E350 had an estimated price tag of roughly $53,000. The equivalent model sold in 1980 would have cost $76,000, a $23,000 markup.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book (KBB), explained that one reason for the differences in prices among these car brands is the fact that while the names have remained the same, the cars themselves have in some cases changed dramatically. For example, “The [Jeep] Cherokee was a full-sized SUV back in 1980. Nowadays, it’s a mid-sized crossover,” Fleming said. It may be the case that the change from a full-size to a mid-sized vehicle contributed to the nearly 7% decline in price.

Many of the legacy model names that are less expensive now than they were 35 years ago are luxury models. The BMW 5, 6, and 7 Series, the Mercedes SL-class, and the Mercedes E-class all are cheaper relative to the 1980 model price in today’s dollars. Fleming explained that this may have to do with the fact that many luxury automakers have modified their lineups to reach lower-income buyers. “We’ve seen this trend where these premium German luxury automakers are making entry-level luxury cars, near-luxury cars, that they can offer to people who maybe traditionally couldn’t have afforded it, or maybe it was just out of their reach. There’s been more of a move to get people into these premium luxury brands.”

Fleming added: “A lot can happen over 35 years in the auto industry.”

In order to determine the seven cars with declining prices, 24/7 Wall St. considered historical model prices provided by Kelley Blue Book. To make the list, these models needed to have a 1980 and 2014 version available for sale in the U.S. The 2014 model in each case had to be at least one percent less expensive than the 1980 price adjusted for 2014 dollars. Analysts at KBB provided price change estimates for each model based on their determination of the most similar versions of each model in 1980 and 2014.

7. Cherokee
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: -6.8%
>1980 price: $8,959
>2014 U.S. sales: 178,508

Since it was introduced in 1974, Jeep’s Cherokee has gone through quite a few changes. Through 1983, the Cherokee was sold as a full-size SUV, but in 1984, Jeep introduced the model that would have the iconic Cherokee look. It was smaller and lighter, which may explain why the current model, adjusted for inflation, costs less than a Cherokee sold in 1980. Jeep stopped producing the model in 2001 only to reintroduce it after a long hiatus in 2013. In 1980, the price of a Cherokee was less than $9,000, which is equivalent to $25,739 in today’s dollars.

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6. 7 Series
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: -9.9%
>1980 price: $28,945
>2014 U.S. sales: 9,744

BMW has been producing its 7 Series line of full-size luxury sedans since 1977 and has manufactured a version of the car every year since. In 1980, an autobuyer could purchase a 4-door 733i for $28,945. A 740i 4-door purchased last year would have cost $83,195, roughly $46,000 more. However, adjusting for inflation, the 2014 model is actually about 10% cheaper than the 7 Series model 34 years ago.. The 7 Series is on its fifth generation, which debuted in 2009. BMW is set to launch the sixth generation soon.

5. 5 Series
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: -12.9%
>1980 price: $20,150
>2014 U.S. sales: 52,704

Like the 7 Series, the 5 Series has been part of BMW’s core line of vehicles since the 1970s. The 5 Series, while still a luxury car, is about $25,000 cheaper than the 7-series, with an MSRP of about $50,000 compared to the 7 Series’ MSRP of around $75,000. The 5 is also significantly cheaper than the version that was sold nearly 35 years ago, after accounting for inflation. In today’s dollars, a 1980 4-door 528i had a starting price of $57,891, roughly $7,500 more expensive than the 2014 equivalent. According to Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book, many luxury automakers have sought to make some models more affordable. This may be the reason the price of the 5 Series has fallen over time.

4. SL-Class
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: -18.2%
>1980 price: $36,130
>2014 U.S. sales: 5,030

The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class has been available for sale in the U.S. longer than nearly any other model. Americans have been able to buy the SL-Class every year since its introduction back in 1954. While the SL-Class’s price has gone up nearly $50,000 since 1980, when inflation is taken into account, the car actually cost $18,876 less in 2014 than it did 34 years earlier. This price drop is indicative of a larger trend of luxury automobiles becoming more affordable for a wider range of budgets.

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3. 6 Series
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: -19.0%
>1980 price: $32,825
>2014 U.S. sales: 8,647

Originally marketed to those looking for a luxury 2-door sedan, the BMW 6 Series has filled a niche in the U.S. market since its introduction in 1976. After its initial 13 years in production, the 6 Series went on hiatus until its reintroduction in 2003. Now in its third generation, the 6 Series is available in 4-door and convertible models. While a new 6 Series Coupe cost only $32,825 in 1980, that amount is equal to $94,306 in today’s dollars, almost $18,000 more than the 2014 rate for a new 6 Series Coup. This significant drop in price may be the result of the German automaker’s attempt to make its luxury vehicles available to a wider share of the market.

2. Jetta
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: -24.9%
>1980 price: $7,650
>2014 U.S. sales: 160,873

Since its introduction to the U.S. market in 1979, Volkswagen has sold millions of Jettas. Over its three and a half decade history, the Jetta has undergone a lot of changes. Currently on its sixth generation, the newest family of Jettas has improved efficiency, safety, and power. In 2014, a new base model Jetta cost $16,515, about $8,865 more than the vehicle cost 1980. Taking inflation into account, however, the Jetta is actually cheaper today than it was nearly 35 years ago. In today’s dollars a Jetta would have cost roughly $22,000 in 1980, about $5,500 less than what a consumer could expect to pay today.

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1. E-Class
>1980-2014 (inflation-adj.) price pct. change: -30.5%
>1980 price: $26,466
>2014 U.S. sales: 66,400

Though officially named E-Class only in the early 1990s, this group of Mercedes-Benz vehicles had already been sold in the U.S. for decades prior. The E-Class cost close to $53,000 in 2014, nearly double its price in 1980 price tag. However, of all the automobiles that existed in the American marketplace in both 1980 and 2014, no price fell sharper in today’s dollars than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. When adjusted for inflation, the E-Class is $23,212 cheaper today than it was 34 years ago.

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