Coming off a banner year with sales at levels not seen for a decade, the auto industry will find it more challenging to keep the ball rolling in 2016. In short, that means more incentives and a buyer's market if makers are unable to curb production schedules to meet plateauing sales rates. Putting additional pressure on new car sales will be a flood of off-lease cars, more than 800,000 by some estimates, which will come onto the market over the next 12 months.

The strong sales of the past three years have been attributed to the releasing of pent-up demand that built up during the 2008-2011 slowdown that saw new car sales drop by 40 percent. Now that the industry has caught up, annual sales should level off in the 16-17 million range and manufacturers will have to adjust output to those levels. If they don't, you can expect to see incentives, like those offered in the latest round of holiday events, continue.

The quarter-percent rise in interest rates (which translate to a $5 per month increase in average monthly payments) won't have an immediate effect, but if the Federal Reserve continues to raise rates through 2016, we could see softer sales. There will continue to be hot segments in which buyers will still have a hard time driving bargains, like crossover SUVs. However, in categories like mid-size sedans, which are shrinking, good deals will be found as manufacturers look to retain market share and volume.

In this atmosphere, expect average transaction prices to moderate somewhat, leasing to continue to grow and dealers expanding their Certified Pre-Owned operations to cope with off-lease cars coming back into the market.

Chevy makes Trax to the Dark Side

The 2016 Chevrolet Trax Midnight Edition projects its dark side thanks to the use of blacked-out styling elements including wheels, headlamp bezels, beltline molding, door handles and a black rear license plate applique. Based on the LTZ trim level, the Trax Midnight edition also sports black seats trimmed with gray accents and floor mats with gray piping

"Introduced just a year ago, the Trax has quickly become an important vehicle for Chevrolet, bringing in new, younger and more female buyer to the brand," said Betsy Flegg, senior marketing manager for Chevrolet crossovers. "The small SUV segment is the fastest growing in the industry and models such as the new Trax Midnight Edition provide customers an expressive option."

Slated to go on sale in February, the Midnight Edition package will add $500 to the base price of the Trax LTZ sticker of $26,125, which includes destination.

Hyundai Sport Value Edition bows

Adding additional equipment to the 2016 Hyundai  Sonata Sport trim level is a new Value Edition Package that includes a sunroof, proximity key with push-button start, hands-free smart trunk, chrome door handles with a welcome light and an upgraded interior featuring leather wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and leather bolsters on the heated cloth sport seats. The package is priced at $950.

"We had an overwhelming positive market reaction to the 2016 Elantra Value Edition trim when it launched earlier this year," said Scott Margason, Hyundai's director of product planning. "This new Sonata Sport Value Edition package will provide customers a compelling value proposition by offering a number of high-demand comfort and convenience features at a significant savings." The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport starts at $23,400 plus $835 delivery.

Infiniti shuffles names, again

Having unveiled both the front-drive Q30 hatchback and the QX30 crossover SUV at major auto shows, Infiniti has decided that it would combine both into just a single model in the U.S. adding the "X" to the Q30's nameplate. This front-drive model will continue be sold outside the U.S. as the Q30. 

The base QX30 retains the same look, front-drive layout and ride height as the Q30, which is essentially a traditional 5-door hatch. The QX30S has a lower stance, bigger wheels and sportier front and rear end treatments and will be sold as the sport alternative to the base model. This vehicle is sold in other markets as the Q30S. The QX30 AWD has all-wheel drive, a higher crossover SUV ride height and off-road inspired design cues. Power for all three comes from a 208-horsepower 4-cylinder mated to a 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.  Pricing has yet to be announced.

Nissan prices 2016 Sentra, Murano

The refreshed 2016 Nissan Sentra has gone on sale with the base S model with a 6-speed manual starting at $16,780, an increase of $250 over the previous model.  The automatic S Xtronic CVT model is $950 more. The makeover includes an exterior redesign that brings it in line with the recently introduced Maxima and Altima, while the interior has been upgraded with a new center console, refined seat and trim material, new steering wheel and automatic headlamps on all models.

 Other prices are $18,030 for the Sentra FE+ S; $18,550 for the SV; $20,410 for the SR, and $22,170 for the SV. All these models are equipped with the Xtronic CVT. Sentra SV, SR and SL models have a new Advanced Drive-Assist display -- a 5-inch screen between the speedometer and tach in the instrument cluster -- as well as Siri Eyes Free voice recognition as standard equipment.

The 2016 Nissan Murano has also been priced with base S front-drive model retailing for $29,660 and $31,260 for all-wheel drive. The SV front- and all-wheel drive models sell for $32,720 and $34,420 respectively, while the SL trim is $37,050 for front-drive and $38,650 for AWD. The range-topping Murano Platinum starts at $39,100 and tops out at $40,700 in all-wheel drive.

The rundown

Ring in the New Year by checking out our five models on the way out, and five models on the way in.

The Nissan Altima has a new trim level and we drive it. The 2016 Nissan Altima SR combines sportiness and value.

The force awakens at Lexus as they bring the 2016 Lexus RC F, GS F and F-Sport models to market.

New Car Spotlight


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