Prices up? Hard to tell with changes in standard equipment

As sure as winter, the automobile industry has bumped up the price of its cars at the start of a new-model year. The good news, however, is that the price rise was modest compared with recent new-model years.

General Motors hiked the price of its '85-model cars an average of 2.3 percent, or $292, over its comparably equipped '84 models. The increase breakdown, reports GM, is 2 percent for higher costs and 0.3 percent for product improvements.

Ford Motor Company's average boost is $153, kept down by a cut in the dealer discount rate on seven lines of small cars. Chrysler increased car prices an average of $125, or 1.2 percent, after adjusting for shifts in options.

GM's higher average price rise is attributed to the fact that it sells far more higher-priced cars than Ford or Chrysler.

Among the imports, Nissan ups the price of its '85-model cars an average $135 , Toyota 1.7 percent or $111, and Mazda $100 to $550. The base price of the rotary-engine Mazda RX-7, for example, jumps from $10,395 to $10,945.

Volkswagen has cut some prices and raised others. Neither the new Golf, replacing the Rabbit, nor the Jetta has yet been priced, but the Scirocco is down $890, although a radio is no longer standard equipment. The pricey Quantum is down more than $2,200, but a long list of ''standard equipment'' has been dumped, including the 5-cylinder engine. Base engine is now a 4-cylinder.

The VW convertible is up $615 to $11,595 while the Vanagon is sticker-priced at $12,290, up $380.

When carmakers do add or subtract equipment, it makes it difficult for the motorist to know exactly what is happening to the window sticker.

If a company adds more standard equipment to an '85-model car, for example, compared with what was standard fare in '84, it adds the cost of the new equipment to last year's price. Thus, although the price of an '85-model Dodge Shelby Charger is base-priced at $8,995, compared with $8,533 in '84, you might at first assume that the price is up $462.

Not true, says the Chrysler Corporation, because the '85-model car has more standard equipment, including a turbocharged engine. Actually, says Chrysler, the price is down $548.

Somehow the $1,010 price differential gets lost in the shuffle.

Average price paid for new cars (calendar year) 1984 (second quarter) $11,220 1983 10,527 1982 9,853 1981 8,929 1980 7,591 1979 6,861 1978 6,382 1977 5,811 1976 5,414 1975 4,949 1974 4,439 1973 4,051 1972 3,879 1971 3,742 1970 3,542 Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis of the Bureau of the Census.

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