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This Week in Car Buying: Shopping for insurance; Subscribe to a Hyundai; Fiat cuts prices; Resale values soften; Few, if any, VW diesels for U.S.

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One of the major elements in a vehicle purchase is making sure your new ride is covered by insurance. The website www.Insure.com has released results of a survey involving 3,700 participants of 20 top insurance companies to find out which ones are among the best. Rankings are based on customer service, claims handling, pricing, whether or not the respondent is planning to renew a current policy and would recommend the insurer.

USAA came out on top with a 97.2 overall rating, receiving top scores for customer service and claims processing.  A total of 92 percent would renew and 97 percent would recommend the company. The Automobile Club of Southern California came in second with a 94.8 overall rating, 4.75 out of 5 on customer service, claims processing and value for price. Of those surveyed, 92 percent said  they would renew and 91 percent said they’d recommend the coverage to others.

Rounding out the top 10 were CSAAA (American Automobiles Association) at 91.3; Travelers, 91.2; Mercury Insurance, 91.1; State Farm, 90.4; The Hartford, 90.2; Progressive, 89.6; American Family Insurance, 89.2, and Nationwide, 89.

Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for Insure.com, observes, “It’s interesting to see the possibility of some exclusivity in membership within the top three; one is military, and the other two are affiliates with AAA and are focused primarily in California.” USAA requires the applicant, applicant’s spouse or parent to be actively or formerly involve with a branch of the U.S. military. CSAA and Auto Club of Southern California don’t require AAA membership, however, Gusner adds, it may be a nice way to get some additional benefits, like lock-out service and roadside assistance. And while CSAA writes policies for the AAA of Northern California, it also offers coverage in 23 other states and the District of Columbia.

Subscribe to a Hyundai

Can car buying become a thing of the past in favor of motorists buying subscriptions to transportation? Hyundai is about to find out as it offers a new program to promote sales of its 2017 Ioniq Electric. The Korean automaker has created  a program called Ioniq Unlimited that features a negotiation-free single-payment approach to leasing the compact electric hatchback. Shoppers can choose a model directly from a dealer’s inventory, see the all-inclusive monthly price, opt for a 24- or 36-month term and once approved for credit, pick up a new Ioniq Electric at the dealership after signing a few forms.

The program features unlimited miles (typically leases have an annual mileage cap with a per-mile charge once that cap is crossed) as well as free electric charging and covered maintenance. The Ioniq Unlimited ownership experience will be rolled out in California first, early next year.

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Fiat cuts 2017 prices

Fiat has followed through on earlier reports that it was about to reduce prices on its 2017 lineup as well as streamlining the number of models to make shopping the range of Italian vehicles much easier. The price cuts will amount to as much as $5,205 on some models, and one version of its 2017 Fiat 500 minicar has been dropped below $15,000.

Fiat is moving to three trim levels across the range from as many as six for the 500, four for the 500 Cabrio and 5 each for the 500L and 500X. In the standard 500 range, the Turbo, Easy and Sport trims are being dropped with just the entry level Pop, mid-trim Lounge and range-topping Abarth remaining. The Easy trim level has been dropped from the 500 Cabrio, leaving Pop, Lounge and Abarth in place. The 500 will cost between $14,995 and $19,995, while the Cabrio ranges from $16,490 to $21,490.

In the 500L model, the Easy and Urbana trims have been eliminated leaving Pop, Trekking and Lounge with prices spanning from $20,995 to $23,695. The 500X drops Easy and Trekking+ and will offer Pop, Trekking and Lounge trim levels at prices ranging from $19,995 to $25,135. That under-$20,000 base Pop 500X comes with a manual transmission only.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

Resale values soften

Even as average transaction prices continue to rise, Kelley Blue Book data shows those higher stickers are not translating into greater retained value in 1- to 3-year-old vehicles at auction. The Blue Book Market Report showed a decline of 4.6-percent or $807 for used units in the third quarter of 2016.

“Despite the average cost of a 1- to 3-year-old vehicle at auction remaining relatively unchanged over the past several years, the average retention value of these vehicles fell by roughly 4 percent in the third quarter,” said Sean Foyil, analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “These vehicles have higher initial costs and may be better equipped than those in previous years, so this may indicate that buyers at auction are not willing to pay a premium for these vehicles, many of which may contain added packages and technology upgrades. There is not enough incentive to pay more at auction.”

Further hurting the retained value is the increased volume of lease vehicles crossing the block, as the number of these off-lease units increased by 11 percent over year earlier levels. The shift away from sedans to crossovers, SUVs and trucks also has hurt compact and midsize 4-door models, which have declined 9.7 and 10.8 percent respectively in retained value. The popularity of newly introduced midsize pickups is reflected in an average value retention of 87 percent, 10 points higher than the next best segment, which is performance cars.

Meanwhile, the average age of the U.S. fleet continues to grow, hitting 11.6 years, up from 11.5, according to IHS Markit data.

Also: Class of 2017 - New Cars Ready to Roll

Few, if any VW diesels set for U.S.

In the wake of the scandal over its cheating on diesel emission tests, Volkswagen said that it will not be placing a high priority on getting back into the diesel market in the U.S. Long a stalwart in the segment, it is virtually abandoning diesels, leaving the field wide open for competitors like Chevrolet, Jaguar and Mazda, who are either selling diesels now or within the next model year. Chevy offers diesels in its Colorado pickup  while Jaguar has diesels in the XE and XF sedans and the F-Pace crossover. Mazda plans to introduce a diesel version of its new CX-5 crossover next year.

According to news reports, VW Group of America CEO Hinrich Woebcken said that he doesn’t think diesels will ever “come back in the same magnitude as we’ve seen up to now. Emission standard in the following years are getting tougher and tougher. Why don’t you put the money and incentives on the spot where the future is,” referring to electric vehicles.

The rundown

Check out the This Week in Car Buying Podcast here.

Looking to offer a version best described as Ford Raptor Light, Chevrolet offers a high performance off-road version of its midsize pickup in the form of the 2017 Colorado ZR2.

Mazda introduced a major makeover for its compact crossover, bringing the 2017 Mazda CX-5 to the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Smart is back with an electric version of its Fortwo city car. This battery powered two-seater slips easily in and out of city traffic and finds parking to boot in this First Review.

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

Ten insider tips for new car buying


 

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