Ford has a bona fide hit on its hand with the redesigned 2018 Expedition and Lincoln Navigator (the latter taking North American Truck of the Year honors). Now the company is looking to squeeze even more production of the vehicles out of its Louisville, Ky., assembly plant.

As a result, Ford has earmarked $25 million to help speed up the line with the aim of boosting production of the full-size SUV duo by as much as 25 percent. According to Automotive News, January sales are up 59 percent for Expedition and 143 percent for Navigator. Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of global markets, told the trade paper that “It’s important for this plant to produce more vehicles. In this segment, people will pay for a great product. The dealer feedback has been even stronger than we’ve hoped for.”

Ford’s quick decision to ramp up production further is no doubt fueled by the fact that Expedition, which starts at $52,890 has seen its average transaction price jump $7,800 last month and the mix of the premium Platinum model, which costs more than $76,000, double to 29 percent of the volume. And Expeditions are sitting an average of only 11 days at dealerships before being sold. The same is true for the 2018 Lincoln Navigator where Ford’s luxury division has seen a $21,300 jump in average transaction prices and that 84 percent of all sales are in the top two trim levels, Reserve ($82,400) and Black Label ($96,650). Mark LeNeve, Ford vice president of sales, said during his monthly sales news conference that “We could have sold a lot more in January if we had them.”

Inventories hold steady

The auto industry entered February with an 84 days’ supply of vehicles on the ground and while it is a significant jump from January’s near ideal level of 61 days’, there’s really no panic because there is always a slowdown that follows the year-end sales push. The days’ supply figure represents the number of days it would take to sell all cars in stock at the current rate.

Last year at the start of February, the industry had an 85 days’ supply. As of the first of the month by brand, Mercedes-Benz has the slimmest inventories at 47 days’ supply followed by Subaru at 53 and Kia and Land Rover at 54. Fiat continues to have the biggest inventory at 179 days, followed by Volkswagen with 136 and Ram with 131.

Among vehicles with the smallest inventory (which includes vehicles in transit from the factory) is the Lincoln Navigator, which stands at just 23 days’ supply. The dead of winter is not a time to buy a roadster, hence Fiat is reporting that its 124 Spider has a 319 days’ supply on a total of 2,300 vehicles in stock. The same can’t be said of the Buick Regal, which has seen its days’ supply climb to 308. Smart shoppers looking for a fun car or a nice midsize sedan should shake off the winter blues and visit their respective Fiat and Buick dealers.

Hyundai expands Shopper Assurance

After tests in Miami, Orlando, Dallas and Houston that began last October, Hyundai’s Shopper Assurance effort is being rolled out nationally. The program offers transparent pricing, convenient test drives, a quicker purchase process and a 3-day money back guarantee.

According to the automaker, the program was responsible for a 43 percent increase in website visits and 10 percent bump in leads during the test. And dealers involved in the program outpaced national dealers in sales growth.

“The positive response to Shopper Assurance exceeded our expectations and it’s clear that customers want a more convenient way to buy a car,” said Dean Evans, CMO, Hyundai Motor America, in a news conference at the Chicago Auto Show. “Shopper Assurance is a differentiator for Hyundai and significantly improves the perception of the brand and our dealers. It is now available nationally because of the dedication of our dealers to deliver the best experience possible and adapt quickly to changing buyer preferences with new technologies and innovation.”

Among the key features is transparent pricing where the dealers post market pricing (MSRP less incentives and discounts) on their websites. Hyundai says this reduces the time it takes to negotiate a deal. Another element is completing most of the paperwork online for things ranging from credit approvals to trade-in estimates, which helps speed the final transaction.

Two other aspects of the program include flexible test drives and a money-back guarantee. Shoppers can schedule a test drive from a local dealer through the Hyundai Drive feature on the auto maker’s website. The vehicle can be delivered to a location of the customer’s choosing. The money back guarantee allows customers not satisfied with their purchase three business days to return the car for a full refund, contingent upon a dealer inspection and the vehicle having fewer than 300 miles since the purchase/lease date.

2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF priced 

The Windy City has always been the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s second home, serving as the launch pad for its world debut at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show and the site of numerous MX-5 “firsts.” This year, it’s where Mazda announced pricing and packaging for the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, or retractable fastback.

As it enters its second model year, the Miata RF benefits from new features including standard heated cloth seats on Club models, advanced keyless entry on all models, new colors and heated leather-trimmed seats on the optional Club model’s Brembo/BBS wheel and brake package.

For 2018, the Miata MX-5 RF Sport starts at $31,910 for a vehicle equipped with a 6-speed manual. An automatic is $600 more. The MX-5 Club with the Brembo/BBS package lists for $35,680 and comes only with a manual transmission. The RF Grand Touring is $32,750 for the manual and $33,825 for the automatic, while models equipped with Auburn Nappa leather are $1,300 more. Soft top MX-5 prices range from $25,295 to $31,570. All prices exclude $890 delivery.

The rundown 

Texas is where the family car is a pickup. With the return of the 2019 Ram 1500 Lone Star Edition, the FCA truck unit brings back a model built specifically for that market.

BMW has said it wants more crossover SUVs and it’s updating the ones it has. The German automaker has just taken the wraps off the 2019 BMW X4, which sports 4-door coupe-inspired styling.

The next big show on our radar is Geneva, where the 2019 Toyota Supra will bow in racing trim. We recently spied both the Supra and the 2019 BMW Z4 on which it is based 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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