The prices of entry-level Japanese sedan cars have fallen below the psychological $100,000 mark following the dive in certificate of entitlement (COE) premiums this week, particularly for cars with engine capacities of up to 1,600cc.
The 1.5-litre Nissan Almera sedan is now $93,800, down from $102,800 before the COE plunge.
The newly launched Mazda 3 sedan of the same capacity was $113,988 two weeks ago, but $99,988 now.
These prices include COEs that are not guaranteed. To be sure of getting a car despite the fluctuations in the bidding cycles, buyers usually have to fork out a bit more; for instance, they can secure an Almera for $98,800.
Car prices are typically updated every two weeks in conjunction with the COE bidding cycles.
COE premiums for small cars tumbled nearly 16 per cent from $71,335 to $60,002 on Wednesday, a 21-month low.
Though a price reduction was expected as more COEs were coming onstream, the depth of the drop caught motorists and traders by surprise.
Car dealers said it has been nearly two years since entry-level Japanese car prices fell to such levels.
Korean carmaker Kia also slashed the price of its 1.6-litre Forte sedan from $105,999 two weeks ago to $99,999 now.
"The showrooms are going to be crowded this weekend," said Nissan dealer Tan Chong Motor's general manager Ron Lim.
But Nissan and Mazda may have stolen a march, for not every Japanese carmaker is willing to dive below the $100,000 level yet. The cheapest Toyota, the 1.5-litre Thai-made Vios sedan, is priced at $103,888, down from $115,488 two weeks ago.
Over at Honda, the 1.3-litre Insight Hybrid is $107,900 and the bigger 1.5-litre City sedan is $110,900, both down by about $9,000 from two weeks ago.
"We are not too far (from $100,000)," said Mr Nicholas Wong, general manager for Honda dealer Kah Motor.
He contended that booking a car below $100,000 does not guarantee the customer will get it.
"If the COE does not fall further or rebounds, these customers may be asked to top up," he said, adding: "That is why we prefer to hold steady."
Some continental marques have also slashed their car prices, although not to the price levels of the Japanese cars.
Audi has cut the price of its A3 sedan by $10,000, from $149,999 to $139,999.
Mercedes-Benz reduced the prices of all its cars by between $5,000 and $7,000, while BMW has kept its prices unchanged.
Mercedes' entry-level A180 hatchback is at an all-time low price of $142,888, after dealer Cycle & Carriage started selling the car in February this year.
But even though small-car prices have dipped below the $100,000 mark, at least one buyer is still staying out of the market.
Mandarin drama teacher Woo Wei Que, 67, said he would not start shopping around unless COE premiums drop to $20,000 or $30,000, an unlikely scenario given the current premium levels.
The COE for his 2-litre Kia Magentis, which expires in November, cost $21,000.
Said Mr Woo: "It's still too expensive. If prices don't drop further, I may buy a used car or stop driving."
This article was published on May 10 in The Straits Times.
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