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KBB Announces 2017 Best Buy Awards


IRVINE, Calif. — Kelley Blue Book today announced the winners of its 2017 Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards. The 2017 Honda Civic was named the Overall Best Buy of 2017, however, 11 other vehicles also took top honors for their respective categories.

“Kelley Blue Book editors went to the unprecedented choice of honoring the Honda Civic as the Overall Best Buy for the second year in a row because of the Civic’s unsurpassed all-around value,” said Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for KBB.com. “It turns in very high marks in objective measures like resale value and cost to own, yet it also is a supremely satisfying car to drive and live with every day.”

Overall, the Honda brand took home four awards, with its new Civic also winning in the small car category. The Honda Accord and Pilot also won in the mid-size car and mid-size SUV/crossover categories, respectively.

The Chevrolet brand received the second-most Best Buy awards, with its Impala winning in the full-size car category and the automaker’s Tahoe winning in the full-size SUV/crossover category.

The 2017 Audi A4 was named the Best Buy in the luxury car segment, while the 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster took top honors in the sports/performance car segment. The best electric/hybrid was the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime.

In the small SUV/ crossover category, the 2017 Kia Sportage emerged as KBB’s Best Buy. In the luxury SUV/ crossover category, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC was honored with the top award. And for the third year in a row, Ford’s F-150 received KBB’s Best Buy award.

Lastly, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica received the best buy award for the minivan category.

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NHTSA Admits Faults in GM Investigation


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration admitted Friday it made a series of errors in its handling of General Motors Co.’s delayed recall of 2.6 million cars with faulty ignition switches linked to 109 deaths and more than 200 injuries, reports The Detroit News. The federal agency pledged to make significant reforms.

NHTSA is bracing for what are expected to be scathing reports into the GM recall from the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General and Government Accountability Office. The safety agency released its internal findings in part to show it already was making significant reforms. NHTSA said it is making changes to spot defect problems earlier, and announced that a three-member team would advise the agency on its restructuring.

In two internal reports released Friday, NHTSA said it failed to hold the Detroit automaker accountable; didn’t understand alternate theories how the company’s air bags worked; and didn’t follow up on trends from its own data and investigation.

It acknowledged it missed numerous chances over nearly a decade to discover the deadly defect in 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other small cars. In those cars, which since have been recalled, the key can inadvertently turn off the engine and disable power steering and air bags.

Still, the report places most of the blame on GM for failing to disclose problems to NHTSA.

In May 2014, NHTSA fined GM a record-setting $35 million for delaying the recall and GM had to agree to up to three years of intensive monitoring. GM CEO Mary Barra fired 15 and disciplined five after an internal GM report showed a “pattern of incompetence and neglect.”

GM said in a statement Friday, “We support the changes to NHTSA’s organization announced today and we will continue to work collaboratively with NHTSA toward our shared goal of improving automobile safety in all respects.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said the agency was not disciplining or firing anyone as a result of Friday’s report. It was the agency’s most forthcoming admission that it shoulders some of the blame in failing to discover the defect. In testimony before Congress last year, NHTSA largely rejected responsibility.

Rosekind didn’t want to focus on blame, seeking instead to emphasize how to improve the system. “There is no single individual who can be blamed for the things that happened previously,” he said, adding there was no evidence that NHTSA employees intentionally failed to do their jobs.

Part of the problem is funding, Rosekind said. The White House proposed tripling NHTSA’s auto defects budget and doubling the number of staff assigned to it. But Congress has shown little interest in doing so.

‘Crucial first step’

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said they were happy NHTSA is finally acknowledging its errors. “Unfortunately, for more than a decade, NHTSA failed to address the information and evidence it had in its own database linking defective ignition switch to fatal accidents,” they said.

The pair said NHTSA must “put in place permanent measures necessary to prevent another tragedy like this from ever happening again.”

Clarence Ditlow, head of the Center for Auto Safety, praised the self-assessment and said Congress must give NHTSA more funding.

He called it “a crucial first step toward restoring the integrity of the agency’s enforcement process and the ability to hold the auto industry accountable for defects that kill and injure … The assessment also sets into motion new internal processes to correct deficiencies in agency procedures that missed defects like GM ignition switch, Jeep fuel tank and Takata air-bag inflators.”

The Justice Department is nearing a decision on whether to pursue criminal charges against GM and impose a fine that could be in excess of $1.2 billion as part of a settlement that is likely to come by summer’s end. The Securities and Exchange Commission and 50 state attorneys general also are investigating.

The announcement comes ahead of a forthcoming report from the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General into NHTSA’s handling of GM’s ignition issues. That report is expected to harshly criticize the agency’s handling of the issues.

The Government Accountability Office also is investigating NHTSA’s handling of the recalls as part of a broader assessment of the agency’s performance sought by Congress.

In September, the House Energy and Commerce Committee sharply criticized NHTSA’s handling of the GM complaints between 2007 and 2014, saying it had made “inexcusable errors.” A committee report said that after NHTSA declined to open an investigation into air-bag failures in Cobalts and other cars in 2007, the agency was deeply reluctant to revisit that conclusion even after new crashes and reports came to the agency’s attention.

One of the NHTSA reports found the agency “did not hold GM accountable for providing inadequate information.” That was despite the fact that “GM’s responses often contained very little information and included invocations of legal privilege.” It said the agency did not “push back and request more information.”

Team to address changes

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Friday he is naming a three-person team that will spend the next year advising NHTSA on implementing changes outlined in the reports.

The team includes Joseph Kolly, director of the Office of Research and Engineering at the National Transportation Safety Board; J. Victor Lebacqz, former associate administrator for aeronautics research at NASA; and James P. Bagian, a former NASA astronaut who directs the Center for Healthcare Engineering and Patient Safety at the University of Michigan, where he is a professor at the medical and engineering schools.

NHTSA has long been criticized for being too cozy with automakers. But since Rosekind was confirmed as NHTSA’s new administrator in December, the agency has taken a much more aggressive approach to auto safety issues. At the same time, some senior officials have announced plans to retire.

NHTSA pressured Takata Corp. last month to declare 33.8 million vehicles with its air bags defective, announced it would hold an unprecedented July 2 hearing into Fiat Chrysler’s safety issues and prodded Ford Motor Co. to expand a door latch recall.

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GM Recalls Nearly 7,600 Chevy Caprices Over Transmission Issue


General Motors Co. will recall about 7,600 Chevrolet Caprice police vehicles for a transmission issue, making this the 75th safety recall action the auto maker has taken this year and putting the number of total vehicles recalled by the company in North America at well over 30 million, reported The Wall Street Journal.

The recall, posted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Tuesday, covers certain 2011 through 2013 model year Caprices. The vehicles are police patrol cruisers equipped with a specific transmission selector lever that contains two pins that can become displaced.

If the pins get displaced, the driver may be able to shift the vehicle from “park” without depressing the brake pedal or remove the ignition key without the transmission being in “park.” The situation may lead to vehicles rolling away.

This is the second time in three days the auto maker has recalled certain Caprice models. The company had recalled some versions of the 2011 and 2013 model years for an ignition switch issue. A bumping of the ignition key could cause the switch to move from “on” to “accessory,” thereby disabling the air bags.

This also marks the seventh recall issued by the company since Thursday.

The company has now recalled approximately 30,011,650 vehicles in North America this year after pledging to take quicker action to spot and react to problems in the wake of its failure to recall 2.6 million cars with an ignition switch problem for about 11 years.

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Ford, Chevy and Toyota Lead the Way in Edmunds.com’s Inaugural Most Popular Vehicle Awards


Santa Monica, Calif. – Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota are the most decorated brands among a diverse selection of new cars and trucks that earned the 2014 Most Popular on Edmunds.com Awards. The inaugural awards were presented by the car shopping Web site at the 2014 New York International Auto Show.

Ford has the strongest representation of any brand recognized by the Most Popular on Edmunds.com awards, with 10 winning vehicles. Highlights include the Ford F-150, which was named one of the 2014 Most Popular on Large Trucks; and Ford Mustang, which was named one of the 2014 Most Popular on Entry Sport Cars.

Chevy and Toyota each earned seven awards. Highlights include the Chevy Colorado, which was named one of the 2014 Most Popular on Compact Trucks; and the Toyota Camry, which was named one of the 2014 Most Popular on Midsize Sedans.

Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Dodge, GMC, Honda, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Kia, Lamborghini, Land Rover, Lexus, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Nissan, Porsche and Tesla also were honored in a range of categories.

“Edmunds.com is in a unique position not only to offer independent and trusted reviews of every vehicle on the market, but also to see firsthand which cars and trucks most pique the interest of shoppers on our site,” said Seth Berkowitz, president, Edmunds.com. “By naming these award-winning vehicles, we hope that car shoppers have an easier time evaluating some of the excellent choices available on the market today.”

The 2014 Most Popular on Edmunds.com awards were determined by finding the three models in each of 23 vehicle segments with the highest total monthly car-shopper consideration in calendar year 2013. “Consideration” means the number of unique visitors during a calendar month to the research and inventory pages on Edmunds.com desktop site for each new model.

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Toyota, Ford, Honda & Chevrolet Dominate Consumer Reports 2014 Car-Brand Perception Survey


Yonkers, N.Y. – Consumers continue to distinguish Toyota, Ford, Honda and Chevrolet as the leading brands overall, but several others, including Tesla and Subaru, are moving up the rankings, according to Consumer Reports’ annual Car-Brand Perception Survey.

Toyota has a 25-point advantage over second-place Ford, reflecting a five-point gain over the year prior for Toyota and a three-point improvement for Ford. It could be interpreted that the safety concerns that saw the Toyota score stumble a few years ago have faded, returning the brand to its position as the perceived industry leader.

The scores reflect how consumers perceive each brand in seven important buying factors, ranked in order of the importance to consumers: quality, safety, performance, value, fuel economy, design/style and technology/innovation. Combining those factors gives the total brand-perception score. While the scores reflect a brand’s image, they do not reflect the actual qualities of any brand’s vehicles.

“The key word is ‘perception’. Consumers are influenced by word of mouth, marketing and hands-on experience. Often, perception can be a trailing indicator, reflecting years of good or bad performance in a category, and it can also be influenced by headlines in the media,” said Jeff Bartlett, deputy automotive editor, Consumer Reports.

The survey shows the brand to watch is Telsa Motors, which jumped from 47 points last year, to fifth position with 88 points. Tesla had a strong, very public year, with soaring stock prices, magazine awards and exceptional crash-test performance. Innovation, performance and sleek styling is clearly gaining attention and making a positive impression. By gaining points in several categories, Tesla was able to raise its overall score. This highlights the value of being good at multiple things, rather than rely on a single facet.

Consumer perception of Subaru’s safety is a key factor in that brand’s ascension into the top 10. This modest-scale automaker made big news over the past year with its “good” crash-test performance, among other accomplishments. All its models, except for the aged Tribeca, have earned coveted Top Safety Pick+ status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The survey results suggest consumers are paying attention.

That the remainder of the Top 10 all score 73 or higher is notable; last year there was a wider spread. Many brands impress consumers, creating a challenge for brands to distinguish themselves in the fast-moving marketplace. Likewise, consumers need to determine where to spend their money.

Quality:
The top factor for car buyers remains quality, scoring 90 points both this year and last. What has changed is the number of brands that are distinguished by this attribute. In 2013, Consumer Reports had four brands show a clear advantage; this year, there are six that stand out from the herd, including Cadillac in sixth place. Toyota has an advantage here, with the other brands clustered close behind. Seeing the brands that are considered exemplar for this virtue underscores how “quality” can be broadly interpreted, ranging from tactile first impressions to long-term durability.

Safety:
Volvo has long hung its hat on safety, and this focus continues to pay off. In the minds of consumers, there is a single, clear choice. The Swedish brand increased its lead this year, potentially aided by public awareness of advanced safety features in general, and Volvo’s continued efforts to remain on the forefront of safety technology. It will be a challenge for automakers to close the gap with Volvo, but Subaru demonstrates that it is possible with consistent performance across a model range.

Performance:
As Consumer Reports has seen in recent years, standout brands tend to offer a balance of sporty and fuel-efficient models. Chevrolet exemplifies this concept, as it takes the lead for 2014 propelled by the Corvette Stingray, Camaro and SS, with the Cruze diesel and Volt likely proving a factor, as well. BMW remains in second place, bolstered by turbocharged engines that strive to improve both acceleration and fuel efficiency, plus its electrified i3 and i8.

Value:
Consumers remain value conscious, looking to get the most for their money. With cars, that means looking beyond the purchase price to what the car delivers for that money. Here, Consumer Reports survey showed consistent year-over-year rankings, with the same five automakers topping the chart: Toyota, Honda, Ford, Kia and Chevrolet.

The twist this year is the corporate siblings Hyundai and Kia have traded places, with about an eight point difference each year separating the two. Clearly, both have the potential to rightfully shine in this area, but their volatile movements suggest owners keep seeing them in different lights, perhaps influenced by the visibility of Hyundai’s special recession-proof financing guarantees and introduction of new, compelling products.

Fuel economy:
Toyota owns fuel economy in the minds of consumers, aided by its Prius hybrid and its continued benchmark performance, with 44 mpg overall. But this is a trait that all automakers are chasing. Smart jumped up 10 points this year, despite not offering a new product. Honda continues to hover near the top, with its continued focus on efficiency. Tesla and Volkswagen crashed the party this year, with increased recognition for their accomplishments. The electric Tesla Model S garnered much attention this year for its combination of gas-free luxury and performance, with ample range that enables it to be a truly traditional car replacement. Volkswagen continues to carve a notable niche with its efficient diesel powertrains, now joined by a hybrid in the Jetta line.

Design/style:
Notably a less important factor, design/style still plays a vital role in driving car purchases. Truly a subjective measure, design continues to be led by the prestige brands BMW, Cadillac, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. But, their lead is slight and vulnerable to the fickle tides of public tastes. Consumer Reports’ survey has seen mainstream brands be increasingly daring in recent years, and several have invested in upscale exterior dressing, such as extensive chrome and LED lights, to grab attention. The top 10 here is rounded out with Ford, Lexus, Ferrari, Tesla and Dodge.

Technology/innovation:
The least important car-buyer factor rated by consumers in CR’s survey, technology/innovation, is still a significant consideration for at least 68 percent of car shoppers. Automakers are racing to offer the latest, greatest infotainment and advanced safety features. And consequently, brochures and advertising are overflowing with similar-sounding systems from across the industry, making it difficult for brands to distinguish themselves. But this year, Tesla has done so, giving the fresh brand a commanding lead in this year’s rankings. The other top brands all have focused on consumer-facing technology, though with mixed results. The much-ballyhooed infotainment systems from these brands often leave something to be desired.

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CarFinance.com Releases New Loyalty Data


Irvine, Calif. – A new brand loyalty report from CarFinance.com shows that below-prime car buyers are less loyal than the average car buyer, are making practical choices as they re-enter the market and are trading in slightly younger vehicles this year than last. The report lists the top five brands for loyalty and purchase, as well as the most traded-in model years for below-prime car buyers. Based on an analysis of trade-in data from January 2013 to September 2013, the report offers a unique snapshot of the large population of car-buyers who are below prime.

“This report offers one of the industry’s only views of below-prime car-buyer behavior,” said CarFinance.com CEO Jim Landy. “Given that over half of all used, and over one in four new, car loans today go to below-prime consumer, this is data that both automakers and consumers might want to take note of. These buyers, who are getting back on their feet, are contributing to the auto industry recovery, and this report provides a view of the brands these consumers are relying on – and trust – the most.”

Below-prime car buyers, according to the report, are most loyal to Kia overall, although Nissan came in a strong second. When looking at the brands consumers are buying most when trading in, Chevrolet came in at number one, followed by Ford. So, while import brands score highest for loyalty, it is the domestics that these buyers are opting for more than any other brand.

And, given that brand loyalty for this buyer is almost half that (24%) of the average buyer (44%), Chevrolet’s strong showing is significant. Their recent introduction of competitively priced, feature-rich sedans with good fuel economy, such as the Cruze and Malibu, as well as their traditional strength with trucks, is resonating with below-prime consumers.

In addition, the data offers an interesting picture of the age of the vehicles being traded in by these buyers. While the average age of a vehicle on the road today is 11.4 years, the average age of a vehicle traded in by these below-prime car buyers is 8.8 years, a 6% decrease from the previous year’s 9.4. The most traded-in model year is 2006 and the top five years traded-in all pre-date the recession.

“The data continues to demonstrate that these buyers are making practical choices which not only benefit traditional economy brands, but also brands – such as Nissan and Ford – that are offering consumers good value in their entry level vehicles,” said Landy. “While these buyers are not particularly brand loyal, they favor brands that offer competitively priced vehicles with the must-have features that today’s consumers demand. They are also showing more confidence about re-entering the market, as evidenced by the fact that the age of their trade-ins is decreasing.”

Mirroring CarFinance.com’s most purchased models by below-prime car buyers, the loyalty story here is that three Kia models are in the top ten most purchased vehicle list. Kia’s options for this car buyer make it no surprise that their loyalty is strong. Meanwhile, an almost equally solid showing by Nissan, a brand that is well beyond consideration as an economy brand, is of note. Longtime Nissan owners have excellent options with Nissan’s entry vehicles, Versa and Sentra, both of which have made major strides since many of these owners were last in the market.

Below-Prime Car Buyer Loyalty: Top Five Brands Overall

  1. Kia
  2. Nissan
  3. Dodge
  4. Chevrolet
  5. Ford

The inroads made by domestic brands in recent years, with their small and mid-sized sedans, are also resonating with this segment. Together with their continued strong truck offerings, Dodge, Chevrolet and Ford are continuing to command loyalty with the below-prime car buyer.

The average age overall of cars traded in by these buyers is 8.8 years, and it is worth noting that the top five model years are all pre-recession models. While it is possible that some of the buyers did not own the vehicles for the full life span, they are trading in well under the average age of vehicles in the general population, i.e. these consumers are not holding on until their vehicles die. This indicates increased confidence among these buyers about entering the market – and when their vehicles are still viable trade-ins.

Top Trade-in Model Years

  1. 2006
  2. 2007
  3. 2008
  4. 2005
  5. 2004

The CarFinance.com Below-Prime Brand Loyalty Report is based on an analysis of funded loans used to purchase a new or used vehicle and where a trade-in was part of the transaction. The data analyzed covered the first three quarters of 2013.

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