This Week in Car Buying: California scraps fuel savings proposal; Ford F-150 hits its stride; 2016 Chevy Malibu priced; U.S. tops China in car sales

By Matt DeLorenzo on September 11, 2015 10:31 AM

An ambitious plan to cut fuel use in half by 2030 was dropped from a climate change bill in California after the provision failed to garner the backing of the general assembly. The bill, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown and the state senate, would have required that the state's motorists use half the fuel from 1990 levels and could have opened the door to higher gas prices and even rationing. While the oil interests lobbied heavily against the bill, automakers were equally worried that the requirement would have curtailed conventional new car sales, since to reach these lofty goals, virtually all cars sold by 2030 would have to be either battery electric or fuel cell powered. 

The proposal comes at a time when fuel prices continue to drop, hitting $2.44 per gallon for regular nationally. Some predictions have gasoline dropping below $2 per gallon by year's end. Diesel is also down to $2.54 per gallon national average.

Ford F-150 hits stride

Perennially the best-selling vehicle in America, the Ford F-Series pickups saw a 4.7 percent increase in August sales to 71,332 units, well ahead of the Chevrolet Silverado, which posted sales of 54,977. According to Ford, in addition to brisk sales, the inventory is about 90,000 vehicles, down from the 173,000 that were in the pipeline a year ago. Through the first 8 months, Ford sold nearly 500,000 F-Series pickups and supplies are expected to increase as the second factory producing the aluminum bodied truck comes fully on stream.

The sales performance is the best for the pickup since 2006. "Anytime you get more than 70,000 F-Series, that's a big number," observed Mark LaNeve, Ford's vice president of marketing, sales and service.  He added that the inventory is still tight, but getting better from earlier this year.

Also: Class of 2016 -- New Cars Ready to Roll

2016 Chevy Malibu priced

Shown earlier this year at the New York Auto Show, Chevrolet's redesigned 2016 Malibu, which is slated to go on sale at year's end, will offer a base model priced at $22,500 including delivery, a sticker that is about $500 less than the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima base models and around $1,000 less than the Toyota Camry. Malibu's price is undercut slightly by Hyundai Sonata and Mazda6.

The new range will now start with an L model positioned below previous base LS designation, which is priced at $23,995. The LT model starts at $25,895 and tops out at $29,495 when equipped with a 2.0-liter turbo engine and 8-speed automatic. The new Premier model, which replaces the range topping LTZ, starts at $31,795. The lower base price reflects the competitiveness of the segment where the average incentive has risen to $3,294 per car through August, up from $2,852 per car a year earlier, according to Kelley Blue Book data.

USA tops China

For the second consecutive month, total vehicle sales in the United States surpassed those in China. August figures reflected a 160,000-unit gap - 1.58 million vs. 1.42 million. In July, sales here outstripped those in China by more than 240,000 vehicles. 

Not since the 2009 global financial crises has the U.S. passed China in sales. The reversal in fortunes is credited to low gas prices in the U.S. combined with economic jitters in China over the recent devaluation of their currency and a large drop in the stock market. The China Auto Association predicts sales will grow at its slowest pace in four years, according to a report by Bloomberg News.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015

Volvo promises new flagship

Looking to replace its S80 range topper, Volvo is readying the new S90 in a bid to more directly challenge the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedans.  According to Automotive News, the vehicle is critical to a plan to boost overall Volvo sales to 800,000 units globally. Last year, the Swedish automaker sold just 12,500 S80s compared to more than 373,000 5 Series cars sold by BMW.

"The S90 is the ultimate test," Alain Visser, Volvo's sales chief, said at a briefing at the company's headquarters in Gothenburg. "Of all the cars we'll be launching in the next four years, from my point of view, the most challenging is the S90."

The company is slated to unveil the new sedan at the North American Auto Show in Detroit. Volvo is expected to follow up the launch of the sedan with a wagon version called the V90.

The rundown

Nissan has updated the battery pack on its 2016 Leaf EV, offering two higher trim models, SV and SL, with a longer 107-mile range, while the base S model retains the standard pack with a slightly shorter 84-mile range. 

Also on the alternative vehicle scene, Toyota has taken the wraps off its totally redesigned 2016 Prius. The hatchback features an edgier design that incorporates design cues taken from the upcoming Mirai fuel cell vehicle. Toyota promises 10 percent better fuel economy from the hybrid.

Ahead of its launch at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the 2017 Kia Sportage has been revealed. This sophisticated compact crossover SUV has an all-new exterior and is expected to go on sale in the U.S. early next year. 

The 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera/Carrera S marks the first time that all 911 models will be turbocharged. The heavily revamped sports car now has a turbo 3.0-liter flat six replacing the previous 3.8-liter normally aspirated unit. 

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