While its rare or virtually impossible to special order a new vehicle, the list of ways you can personalize them through accessories or trim has grown exponentially. Mini is taking that trend to a new level with Mini Yours Customized. This innovative approach allows buyers to specially design exterior and interior accents, LED door light projectors and LED door sills.

Thanks to the use of 3D printing technology, Mini enables customers to actually create these trim pieces or lighting elements which can be delivered within weeks to the owner or local Mini dealer and service partner for installation. And if you tire of your design, you can create new pieces and swap them out. Also, it affords the ability to put the original trim and non-custom lighting pieces back when it comes time to sell the vehicle.

The artwork or design of the lighting projects can be done online through a configurator that not only allows for personalized messages, such as the name of the driver or passenger to be projected on the ground or shown in the sill plate, but also custom artwork. Customers can choose from a variety of patterns and texture to enhance their creative take on the various trim pieces, which include the dash inlay, fender vents, door and sill lighting. In addition to being available on new Mini Hardtop 2 Door and 4 Door, and the Mini Convertible, owners of this current generation vehicle are eligible to take advantage of the program.

2017 falls short of record

Preliminary data is showing that while 2017 was a strong year for new vehicle sales, total volume will fall short of last year’s record. Analysts for Kelley Blue Book predict that the number will drop 1.57 million units from last year’s record, about 7 percent, to 17.1 million.

Still, the manufacturers’ holiday sales events have been successful in propelling December sales to levels not seen in some time. “December 2016 was the strongest month in nearly 15 years fueled by heavy incentives and year-end sales objectives,” said KBB analyst Tim Fleming.

Shoppers intent on finding that year-end bargain should find the best deals on full- and midsize sedans as those segments continue to flag, dropping in some cases as much as 20 percent over year-ago levels. Buick continues to push 2017 LaCrosse models with as much as $8,000 in discounts, Chrysler has $5,000 on its 300 sedan and Ford is giving $3,000 back on Taurus. Midsize models including the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima are eligible for as much as $5,000 to $6,000 in incentives. Among crossover SUVs, Jeep is giving $5,500 on 2017 and $4,000 on 2018 models of the Cherokee. This compact SUV has polarizing styling that some say have caused its sales to lag.  Jeep is set to show a new 2019 model at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in early January with a more conventional looking front-end design.

Full-size pickups are also seeing some major incentive action at year’s end, but not necessarily because volume is flagging, but rather as makers look to increase their share of this highly competitive segment. As a result, both Chevrolet and Ram are offering major discounts, as much as $11,000 on the 2017 Silverado and $13,000 on the 2017 Ram 1500. Both makers have all-new 2019 replacements that will also be revealed in Detroit.

2018: Year of the used car

The long-expected flood of off-lease used car may be hitting the market in earnest during 2018 and a stronger economy with higher interest rates to tamp down inflation may help fuel those sales. According to reports, interest rates on new car loans have risen one percent over the last year, though there still are many low- or no-interest rate deals in the marketplace for buyers with excellent credit.

 “In 2018, we’re going to see used vehicles become more competitive with new,” Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Cox Automotive told Automotive News. Cox Automotive is the parent company of Kelley Blue Book. “Borrowers who would have qualified for a new loan or lease a few years ago are now more likely to buy used. As rates go higher, we expect this trend to continue.”

Much of the growth in used vehicle sales during 2018 is expected to come from 1- to 5-year-old units, with off-lease models accounting for the largest share. Cox Automotive expects these returns to hit 3.6 million in 2017, up 8.1 percent over 2016 and grow to 3.9 million in 2018, a further gain of 7.4 percent. The chief beneficiaries of these returns will be franchised new car dealers who will for the most part, market them as certified pre-owned vehicles.

Independent used car dealers will see tighter supplies of 5- to 8-year old vehicles since overall industry sales were down significantly when those cars were new. As a result, there may be fewer deals to be had on older used vehicles than on newer ones. “The irony for independent dealers is that they face credit access problems and pricing pressure on a limited supply of vehicles,” Smoke told the trade paper. “They have to pay more for stock, but their customers can’t pay more.”

Buyers savvier on trade-in prices

Call it the Kelley Blue Book effect. A recent survey by Automotive News conducted by DealerRater shows that more and more buyers are determining the value of their trade-in before they go into a dealership to negotiate a deal. As a result, there’s less and less haggling over the value of the trade-in, thanks to the transparency sites like KBB.com provide in the process. This information cuts both ways, in that it may take away some of the leverage a dealer has in making a deal, but also on the flipside, it results in customers who have a more realistic expectation of what their trade is actually worth.

Of the 11,968 responses to the survey, 71 percent said that they consulted online to find their vehicle’s trade-in value. Not all respondents had trade-ins, so excluding those, about 3 percent who had a trade that didn’t go online to see what their car was worth, characterized their negotiations as unpleasant. The 26 percent that didn’t check out that value said their negotiations went smoothly. The majority who did know the value going in also felt that dealers gave them what they felt what their vehicles were worth.

The Rundown

Shopping for a new family car can be a daunting task. But you can whittle the list down quickly with Kelley Blue Book’s 12 Best Family Cars of 2018.

You may keep your eyes on the road, but not necessarily your hands on the wheel, or at least that’s our experience in an Irvine to Las Vegas run in a 2018 Cadillac CT6 with SuperCruise.

The North American International Auto Show is just weeks away. Get an early look at what’s slated to debut here.

In the market for a new car? Explore these useful tips on how to get the best deal:

Kelley Blue Book’s Complete Guide to Incentives

All you need to know about leasing

Which dealer services are right for you?

What to look for in your next economy car

What you need to know about conditional rebates

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