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Cars manufactured by General Motors, which include Cadillacs, Pontiacs, GMC and Saab's, wait for buyers at a dealership in Los Angeles. - 


Bill Radke: Auto SALES came back up a little last month, after the carmakers slashed prices. But will sales ever really be like they were in the good times? That's what Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman wanted to know.

Mitchell Hartman: Twenty-nine-year-old Kenneth McNay is the kind of consumer who makes auto companies dream of better times to come.

Kenneth McNay: I've actually switched cars quite a bit and I kind of like getting in a new car every year.

But a certain "iffiness" creeps into McNay's voice when I ask if he and his wife are ready to buy right now.

McNay: Mostly it's just been the cost associated with putting down and then knowing I'm going to have to keep paying. For me, it's just too much to think I could actually make that decision and know I'd be happy for a good five to seven years.

What about every three years? That's what automakers used to count on.

Gary Chaison: I think the days of buying a new car every three years are over.

Gary Chaison studies the auto industry at Clark University:

Gary Chaison: I think the days of investing in a car to keep it running are just starting now. Cars are more expensive, consumers are more wary, and as a result they're going to be very hesitant.

That hesitation has partly to do with finances. It's harder to get a loan these days -- especially one that stretches over six years and offers lower monthly payments.

Consumers like Kenneth McNay are also waiting to buy because they want to see what new green cars come down the road.

McNay: We want to see the technology develop where hybrids are much more common or even electric vehicles are becoming common.

And when he does plunge in, McNay says it won't necessarily be for a GM brand. He currently drives a Chevy Tracker. He wants to hold off at least a year to see how the company is doing.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

Follow Mitchell Hartman at @entrepreneurguy