This Week in Car Buying: Know your car; 2016 Volvos priced; EV's fall short, again
The announcement by supplier Takata that it is doubling to nearly 34 million the number of vehicles subject to a recall involving its airbags triggered an avalanche of inquiries to the NHTSA website, which saw almost 600,000 consumers checking to see if their cars were subject to the action. The number was well above the nearly 10,000 inquiries the safety agency normally logs per day. This activity underscores the importance in consumers not only knowing the history of the car they own, whether it was new or pre-owned, but also for cars they may consider purchasing.
Dave Nemtuda, senior vice president for Experian Automotive, believes consumers need to know much more information about a particular vehicle that goes well beyond knowing whether or not it has been subjected to a recall. Experian provides vehicle histories to the industry through its AutoCheck program, which is a key component of many certified pre-owned programs offered by manufacturers.
"Buying a vehicle is the second-largest purchase the typical consumer makes," Nemtuda said. "While buying a used vehicle is a bit more economical than purchasing a new one, the average used-vehicle loan still was more than $18,000 in Q4 2014. No one wants to spend that kind of money without having some information about the history and condition of the vehicle."
While much of the data required to make an informed used-car purchase is available from government, manufacturers and the Department of Motor Vehicles, such information is just the first step in getting a true picture of a vehicle's history. Smart buyers look for a more complete accounting. Nemtuda recommends that the following questions be asked when considering the purchase of a used car:
* Has an accident been reported on the vehicle?
* How many people have owned this vehicle?
* Has the vehicle been damaged by floods, fires, hail or some other natural disaster?
* Is the mileage on the odometer accurate?
* Has the vehicle been recalled?
* Has the vehicle had a branded title (e.eg. junked, salvaged or rebuilt)?
* Was the vehicle repossessed or stolen?
"Bringing these insights to light a complete vehicle history has a dual benefit," Nemtuda explained. "If offered by the seller, the information creates a sense of openness and shows that the seller is being forthright and honest. If used initially by the buyer, it provides a sense of confidence that he or she can understand the history of the vehicle and get it for the right price. In both instances, the data provides insights to ultimately help consumers make a good decision for them." Nemtuda also counseled that the vehicle history is most effective when it is combined with an inspection from a licensed mechanic.
2016 Volvos priced
Volvo announced its 2016 lineup which includes two new S60 variants as well as pricing for the entire range. The two additions are the S60 Cross Country and the Chinese-built S60 Inscription, a long wheelbase version of the mid-size sedan. The $43,500 Cross Country is a version of the S60 sedan with a raised ride height that has 7.9 inches of ground clearance along with SUV-inspired body cladding and design cues. It is powered by a 250-horsepower turbocharged 5-cylinder engine and features hill descent control as standard equipment. The Inscription's stretched wheelbase results in 2.9 inches of additional rear seat legroom and features upscale touches including walnut inlays, satin finish accents, a power rear sunshade and side window shades included in its $40,200 base price.
The S60 lineup starts with the base T5 front-drive model at $33,950 and extends up through the $44,200 S60 T6 AWD R-Design model. The V60 wagons start at $35,950 and top out at $45,800. The S80 returns in a T5 front-drive model priced at $43,450.
Volvo's SUV lineup includes the XC70 priced at $37,100 for front-drive and $38,600 for all-wheel drive; the XC60 starts at $36,400 and tops out at $46,950, while the all-new XC90 is offered in two trim levels, the $48,900 T6 AWD Momentum and the $68,100 T8 Twin Engine Plug-in Hybrid.
EV goals unmet
An ambitious goal by the federal government to see a million plug-in hybrids and EVs on the road by 2015 will not be met as consumers fail to embrace the technology. The Obama administration set the goal in 2009 along with a promise that the government would have a "fully fuel-efficient fleet" in the same time period. According to sales figures, the public purchased less than 290,000 plug-in hybrid and EVs from 2009-2014, or about 3 percent of total car sales. Over the same time period, the U.S. government acquired just 24,816 of these vehicles or about 7 percent of the total number of the units it put into service.
Facing that reality, Bill Toth, director of motor vehicle management for the General Services Administration told Bloomberg that "presently, commercially available electric and hybrid vehicles do not align with the most purchased vehicle segments for federal fleets" which are trucks. "They also come with higher acquisition cost compared to conventional vehicles." He said, however, the agency will continue to add alternative powered vehicles to its fleet despite the cut in purchase goals announced by the administration March 19.
As for the general public, it seems it will be quite some time before the million unit milestone is met. And that's having an impact on the value of EVs and plug-ins, both new and used. According to Sean Foyil, a KBB analyst, "The electric vehicle segment was the worst-performing segment in April, down 8.5 percent, or $1,300, due primarily to the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-Miev, while the hybrid segment was down only 1.3 percent, or $187 dollars. Low fuel prices as well as increasing lease returns have been the largest contributing factors in pushing values for the Nissan Leaf lower".
On the horizon: Maserati Levant, 4-cylinder Porsches
In the not too distant future, we will see the production version of Maserati's long awaited SUV called Levant. The company announced that the vehicle will make its formal debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next January. Porsche also announced that it will be launching 4-cylinder powered version of its Boxster and Cayman models next year. The last time Porsche sold a 4-cylinder product was 20 years ago in the 968. Unlike those inline 4-cylinder powerplants, this next generation will be horizontally opposed engines derived from the current flat six and will likely have displacements of either 2.0 or 2.5 liters.