Last fall, Ford announced a Friends & Neighbor program that offered near-employee pricing to the general public. The sales promotion was shelved because of a lack of 0-percent financing to go along with the savings, which in turn led to little consumer interest. Ford is back with a real Friends & Family program in which employee pricing is being made available to bona fide friends and family of Ford employees, according to Automotive News.

The program requires that the buyer obtain a special code from a Ford employee or retiree and they must show that they own or lease a non-Ford product from 1995 or later. Only one code can be shared with a non-family member. The pricing, which is known as A-Plan for Ford products and Z-Plan for Lincolns, is well below factory invoice. The previous Friends & Neighbor program was an X-Plan discount, which is slightly higher pricing extended to suppliers and can sometimes be matched by retail buyers using traditional factory incentives.

According to the trade paper, this is the first time that Ford has made the A-Plan program available to buyers outside an employee’s immediate family since 2008 when the financially troubled Big Three offered similar discounting across the board to fight plunging vehicle sales. Called the A/Z Conquest PIN program in a memo circulated to dealers, the program, Ford spokesperson Elizabeth Weigandt told Automotive News, “It’s about rewarding employees and retirees for a great year.”

Even if you don’t know a Ford employee, the company has some fairly aggressive incentive money on both 2015 and 2016 models, ranging up to $4,350 on 2015 Taurus models and $2,500 on 2016 F-250/350 and all Transit vans.

BMW trims free service

Free scheduled maintenance for 4 years/50,000 miles has been a big BMW selling point, but now the German automaker is looking to scale back that coverage and use the reduced costs to the company to fund dealer bonuses. In addition, BMW is restructuring its dealer incentive programs to stress owner loyalty rates instead of customer satisfaction survey data.

Starting with 2017 model year vehicles, BMW’s free maintenance will run for 3 years/36,000 miles. As part of the change, buyers can transfer any remaining free service to the subsequent owners, something that’s not permitted under the current 4-year/50,000-mile program. Also, in April, BMW will begin offering a 1 percent bonus on the sticker price of every car sold by a dealer to reward new Genius product specialists.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2016

Honda prices Clarity; Audi the R8

Honda has set pricing for its Clarity Fuel Cell sedan, which goes on sale in California late this year with a sticker of about $60,000. The Japanese auto maker is also targeting a monthly lease rate of under $500. The Clarity will be sold in limited volumes. Honda also announced that the car’s architecture will form the basis for the company’s next generation plug-in hybrid, which it hopes to launch by 2018.

The Clarity will be first leased and then sold through Honda certified fuel cell dealers in Los Angeles and Orange counties in California, as well as the Bay Area and Sacramento. Honda also announced that it will bring back the Accord hybrid as a 2017 model this spring.

“The new Clarity Fuel Cell and Accord Hybrid arriving this year, along with the new plug-in hybrid coming in 2018, are critical steps toward a new generation of Honda advanced environmental vehicles and true volume pillar for Honda and our product portfolio in the U.S.,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda’s automobile division.

Meanwhile, the most powerful Audi production model ever, the 2017 R8, has been priced at $162,900 for the base R8 V10 model and $189,900 for the R8 V10 plus. Those prices exclude $1,250 destination. The R8 was introduced last year in Europe and comes to the U.S. as a 2017 model instead of a 2016. The Audi R8 V10 produces 540 horsepower, while the “plus” version makes 610, giving the car a top speed of 205 mph. Audi says these mid-engine supercars share about 50-percent of the same components used in the R8 LMS race car.

Gas prices to remain low

According to the Energy Information Agency, gasoline prices are expected to remain low for the next two years. For the rest of 2016, the EIA expects a gallon of regular to average $2.03 across the U.S. and $2.21 per gallon throughout 2017. That’s down from the national average of $2.43 per gallon in 2015.

The estimate also calls for gasoline to reach a 7-year low during February, averaging $1.90 per gallon, before ticking upward in the spring. This is good news for truck and SUV sales, not so good for alternative vehicles, which manufacturers are depending on to meet fuel economy numbers. Smart shoppers should prepare for deals on hybrids, plug-ins and EVs in the months ahead.

The rundown

Prices for the 2017 Hyundai Elantra have been announced. The new MSRP starts at $100 below the previous model.

An all-wheel drive version of the recently introduced 2016 Mini Clubman, called the ALL4, is set to bow this spring.

Get your camo on with the 2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Realtree Edition. This SEMA concept comes to life this spring.


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