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Car dealers give better deals to white male buyers than they do to blacks and women who walk into their showrooms, the author of a study said Thursday.

The study, conducted by an American Bar Association research group, made more than 550 visits to dealerships in the Chicago area.

The researchers posed as middle-class buyers shopping for identical car models.

Black woman were offered the highest prices, averaging $875 per car more than white men, the study found.

Ian Ayres, a Northwestern University law professor who headed the research, said Thursday the study results may be attributable to car dealers trying to concentrate profits by targeting a relatively few customers -- "suckers" -- who will pay higher markups.

That may not be bigotry, but it's definitely discrimination, Ayres said.

"Treating black people differently in order to increase your revenues runs afoul of our traditional civil rights norms," Ayres said.

An official with the National Automobile Dealers Association denied that any responsible salesman would target a person by race or sex, especially since most people go to several different dealers and play one off another while shopping. And while he hadn't seen the study, NADA Vice President Frank McCarthy said the premise was not valid.

The study began three years ago and involved 90 Chicago-area dealerships. A follow-up survey of 275 to 300 dealerships was conducted during the past year.

In the first study, three white male researchers divided among themselves dealerships selling the same brand of domestic car, then tried to get the best deal on a new car.

Each dealership also was visited at about the same time by one of three other researchers -- a white woman, a black woman and a black man -- who bargained over the same car. The researchers were prepared with carefully rehearsed negotiating tactics to get the best deal.

Ayres said that researchers were given the worst deals by salespeople of the same race and gender.

The make and model of the car was not disclosed, but researchers estimated the dealers' cost at about $11,000.

The study found that white men received final w cars, study says
rooms in the Chicago area
offers that averaged about $11,362 on a new car with a sticker price of $13,465.

The white woman was given an average final price of $11,504, the black man an average final price of $11,783 and the black woman an average price of $12,237. No cars were actually purchased.

In the more comprehensive follow-up study involving 36 testers, each time a white male bargained and either a black man or woman or white woman bargained on the same car.

That study yielded similar results, except that black men were given slightly higher final prices than black women, Ayres said.

Ayres still is analyzing both studies, the first of which is the subject of an article to appear in the February issue of the Harvard Law Review.

But he said the surveys indicate dealers may assume that blacks and women are less knowledgeable about cars and the bargaining process than white males, and therefore more willing to accept a higher price.

Ayres said a survey of consumers last spring by the Consumer Federation of America indicated blacks were less likely than whites to know they could bargain over the price of a new car.

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