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KBB: Average Transaction Price Climbs to Record High in December


IRVINE, Calif. — The estimated average transaction price for light vehicles in the United States reached an all-time record high of $35,309 in December, according to Kelley Blue Book (KBB). This increase, the auto firm added, amounted to a 1.5% increase over the same time last year.

Virtually all vehicle OEM recorded increases in average transaction prices, with Fiat Chrysler, Ford Motor Co. and Nissan North America leading the way. However, KBB noted that just as new prices have grown, so have incentives.

“Even though transaction prices are at an all-time high, incentives have grown similarly to counterbalance the increased prices,” said Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book.  “Higher average transaction prices are reflective of the rapid shift in consumer demand away from cars and into trucks and utility vehicles, which are more expensive. Should the sales mix of cars to SUVs reach a stable point in the near future, actual transaction price growth could match or fall just short of inflation.”

For Fiat Chrysler, average vehicle transaction prices rose 3.3%, driven primarily by the automaker’s Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands. The strength of the Pacifica minivan propelled average transaction prices for the Chrysler brand up 10%, as did fewer sales of the brand’s 200 Sedan. The Dodge brand was up 5% on a lower mix of its compact car, the Dart, and strong performance from the Charger. The average for the Jeep brand was up 2% thanks to a strong month from the refreshed Grand Cherokee.

“December was an interesting month for FCA. Though the Jeep and Ram brands are up, incentives are high, and vehicles such as the Cherokee saw big drops. Jeep has to hope its 2017 redesigns can stem some of the bleeding and help reduce incentives,” said KBB analyst Akshay Anand. “Alfa Romeo and Fiat continue to be drags on FCA, with Alfa’s volume still next to nothing and Fiat continuing to decline in sales. The Pacifica was a great story for Chrysler, but the brand still needs more models in order to become a player.”

Essentially matching Fiat Chrysler’s growth rate, Ford Motor Co. realized a 3% rise in its average transaction price for December. The main drivers were the automaker’s Explorer, Escape and Fusion, which saw their transaction prices climb by 11%, 3%, and 4%, respectively. The Lincoln brand’s average transaction price rose 3% increase due to the Continental $57,156 average transaction price.

Nissan North America realized the biggest year-over-year increase among all the OEMs, with its average transaction price rising 5.9% over the same time last year, according to KBB. Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for AutoTrader, noted that the brand’s growth was driven in large part by the success of its Nissan Rogue sport utility, which benefited from the advertising tie-in with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

“Appealing products, incentives, and financing likely drove the industry to another record year in 2016. A three-peat is possible (if not probable) if Wall Street, consumer confidence, and the economy continue to respond favorably to the incoming administration. There are a lot of old cars on the road still and a lot of new technology awaiting shoppers in today’s showrooms,” said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

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Renault-Nissan Issues Four-Year Autonomous Vehicle Schedule


SUNNYVALE, Calif. — Renault-Nissan Alliance has announced that it will launch more than 10 vehicles with autonomous drive technology in the United States, Europe, Japan and China within the next four years.

In 2016, the vehicle OEM plans to debut vehicles with “single-lane control,” a feature that allows cars to drive autonomously on highways and in heavy stop-and-go traffic. In 2018, the group plans to launch vehicles with “multiple lane control,” which can autonomously negotiate hazards and change lanes during highway driving. In 2020, “intersection autonomy” will be released, which can navigate city intersections and heavy urban traffic with no driver intervention.

The company stated that it plans to install autonomous vehicle technology on mainstream, mass-market cars at affordable prices. In addition to the autonomous technology, the auto group plans to launch a new suite of connectivity applications that will simplify the process of connecting to work, entertainment and social networks inside your vehicle.

“Renault-Nissan Alliance is deeply committed to the twin goals of ‘zero emissions and zero fatalities,’” said Carlos Ghosn, Nissan Alliance chairman and CEO. “That’s why we are developing autonomous driving and connectivity for mass-market, mainstream vehicles on three continents.”

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Exclusive: U.S., Major Automakers to Announce Safety Accord Friday


The U.S. government and a group of global automakers are set to unveil a voluntary agreement at the Detroit auto show on Friday aimed at improving auto industry safety and spurring culture changes, according to company and government officials.

The accord could set the framework for further discussions on safety reforms and mark a new era of cooperation between automakers and regulators after a record-setting year of safety fines, recalls and investigations into malfunctioning vehicles made by General Motors Co, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Honda Motor Co and others.

But it stops short of what many safety advocates have urged Congress and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to adopt: new binding legal requirements to toughen safety rules. And automakers may be able to raise the voluntary agreement to argue against future proposed regulations, saying the accord makes legally binding rules unnecessary.

 The agreement, under discussion for several weeks, would also attempt to improve vehicle cyber security and the use of early warning data to detect potential defects that might lead to safety problems or large-scale recalls, sources said. It would also create new government-industry task forces to work to improve auto safety.

Despite the voluntary agreement, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said the agency will not hesitate to fine automakers that fail to follow the rules and will not give up its aggressive enforcement of auto safety rules.

Automakers recalled a record-setting 63.95 million vehicles in the United States in 2014, incurring large fines from NHTSA.

Companies in the talks leading up to the agreement include GM, Toyota Motor Corp, Ford Motor Co, Daimler AG, Fiat Chrysler, BMW AG, Honda, Nissan Motor Co and Hyundai Motor Co.

The agreement is to be announced at the auto show in the U.S. auto capital of Detroit by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and top auto executives, sources told Reuters.

In a letter last week to the NHTSA seen by Reuters, the group of 16 automakers said industry support of an agreement “reaffirms our shared commitment to safety, and signals to the public the areas in which government and industry intend to collaborate to further improve automotive safety.”

Automakers met with the NHTSA in Chicago on Dec. 16 and since then exchanged proposed “Principles for Working Collaboratively to Enhance Motor Vehicle and Traffic Safety.”

In recent days, NHTSA and automakers have continued to propose revisions, including discussions about government-industry working groups, according to auto industry officials who spoke to Reuters at the Detroit show.

The talks come after NHTSA came under intense criticism in 2014 for failing to detect ignition switch defects in 2.6 million older GM cars linked to at least 124 deaths. Since then, NHTSA has been more aggressive in handing out fines and demanding outside monitors oversee automaker safety compliance.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said on Monday in an interview on the sidelines of the Detroit show that the agency cannot make vehicles safe simply by imposing new regulations and handing down fines. He said he hoped a deal would be announced Friday.

“We’re going to have to find new tools – that means new collaborations, new partnerships,” Rosekind said.

But the voluntary agreement will not be enforceable – and is not as tough as what some safety advocates have called for. With only a year remaining in the Obama administration, there is a shrinking window to complete new legally binding auto safety rules.

Sean Kane, president of Massachusetts-based Safety Research & Strategies Inc and an auto safety advocate, praised NHTSA “for having a dialogue” with automakers and prodding them to do more on safety “and be strong on enforcement.”

Kane raised concerns about a voluntary agreement that is not legally enforceable. “It also eliminates input from outside parties” like safety advocates and consumers, Kane said, “and that is a little troubling.”

Foxx met with top executives from major automakers on Dec. 1 in Washington. A spokeswoman for Foxx said there have since then been “productive discussions with auto manufacturers toward agreement on steps to bolster safety.”

Foxx “is hopeful that they will soon result in concrete commitments that lead to significant safety improvements that will strengthen public confidence,” said his spokeswoman.

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said on Monday he agreed with the NHTSA that the auto industry needs more collaboration with regulators. He said he wanted the industry to “get to a stage where safety is no longer a competitive edge used by one automaker against another.”

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New-Vehicle Registrations Return to Prerecession Levels


SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — New-vehicle registration volumes for light-duty vehicles reached the highest point in nine years, with more than 17 million new vehicles registered within the United States between Nov. 1, 2014 and Oct. 31, 2015, according to Experian Automotive.

The highest number of new registration volumes on record was 17.4 million in 2006, while the lowest point was during the Great Recession, when volumes fell to 10.2 million in 2009.

“It’s encouraging to see new registrations return to prerecession levels, with lower interest and higher employment rates driving vehicle demand,” said Brad Smith, Experian’s director of automotive market statistics. “While I’m sure the auto industry would like to continue this growth annually, it is important to continually monitor data trends and economic indicators to identify shifts in demand and adjust business strategies accordingly.”

Experian’s data also revealed a shift in what consumers are buying, with crossover utility vehicles now accounting for nearly 24% of the market this year — up more than 100% from 2006.

“The crossover utility vehicle segment, with popular entries like the Ford Escape, the Honda CR-V, the Chevrolet Equinox and the Toyota RAV4, provides consumers with a nice balance between utilitarian need and fuel economy,” Smith added. “All-wheel drive versions and roof racks provide the recreational sportsman with the fit and function needed for weekend getaways, while the rear hatch makes these vehicles a viable grocery-getter as well.”

The Top Five brands by market share during the reporting period were Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda and Nissan. They accounted for 54% of the 17 million new-vehicle registrations. By model, the Ford F-150 led the way with a 2.9% share of the market, followed closely by the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and Toyota Camry with shares of 2.6% and 2.5%, respectively. The Toyota Corolla, Honda CR-V and Honda Accord tied for fourth with shares of 2.1%.

States leading the way in new-vehicle registrations were California (11.8% share), Texas (9.2%), Florida (7.6%), New York (6%), Illinois (4%).

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Nissan Union Ends 16-Year Silence to Knock French Power Grab


Nissan Motor Co.’s hands-off labor union stepped in to criticize the French government over its power struggle with Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn, issuing its first public appeal involving the Japanese carmaker’s affairs in 16 years, reports BloombergBusiness.

The French government’s “unacceptable” attempt to obtain double voting rights in Renault SA would destabilize the two carmakers’ alliance, Nissan’s union said in a statement Wednesday. The labor group last shared its views this way in response to Ghosn’s rescue plan calling for Nissan plant closures in 1999, said Hiroyuki Ohkita, president of the union.

“We hope this matter can be resolved as soon as possible so that we can reestablish the foundations of a successful alliance while preserving the independence of Nissan,” the union said.

The clash between Nissan and France’s government risks undermining one of the auto industry’s most successful partnerships. Nissan has been considering ways to restructure its alliance with Renault after the government increased its stake in the French carmaker in April. Nissan has laid out a scenario to Renault board members in October that would grant the Japanese company voting rights in its partner, reversing what’s been an alliance with one-sided control, people familiar with the situation have said.

Nissan rose 0.7 percent at the close Thursday in Tokyo trading. The shares have climbed 23 percent this year, outpacing the 14 percent gain for the benchmark Topix index.

The partnership has been held together by the unequal cross shareholdings and Ghosn, 61, the CEO of both companies. Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan, which in turn holds 15 percent of its partner. Under French law, Nissan doesn’t have voting rights for its stake.

Nissan has suggested more balanced holdings with Renault in a range of 25 percent to 35 percent to Renault’s board members, the people said. Voting rights could be revived if Renault’s stake falls to less than 40 percent, and the French carmaker is also considering that move, people familiar with the situation said.

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Asbury ‘Comfortable With’ CFPB Limits on Dealer Markup


DULUTH, Ga. — Asbury Automotive executives were confident during a quarterly earnings call Tuesday that the group’s internal cap on dealer markups, as well as its fixed F&I product prices, will keep it out of trouble with regulators like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Craig Monaghan, Asbury’s president and CEO, said he didn’t know if rumors of possible action against Toyota Motor Credit and Nissan Motor Acceptance by the CFPB were true. But the regulator’s $24 million settlement with Honda Finance — and the captive’s resulting compensation policy that limits dealer discretion — didn’t faze the executive.

“… I think what we would say is that if [the actions against Toyota and Nissan’s captives] all go the same direction that Honda and BB&T [Bank] went, that’s something that we could be comfortable with,” Monaghan told callers. BB&T Bank switched to a flat-fee dealer compensation model at the beginning of the month.

“… With Honda and BB&T moving to these flat rates, flat fees or rate caps, essentially, if you were to convert that into a dollar basis, that would allow us to generate F&I finance, [profits per vehicle retail] that are pretty much in line with what we already see today,” the CEO noted. “So we think that’s something that we can manage through, and really don’t expect any bump in the business as we continue to move forward.”

The dealer group realized an uptick in F&I business during the quarter, reporting a 16% increase in revenue compared to the prior-year period. F&I revenue was at $67.6 million during the quarter — up from $58.4 million. F&I profit per vehicle retailed for the quarter was $1,373, up $42 on a year-over-year basis.

David Hult, the dealer group’s COO and executive vice president, attributed much of that increase to product sales. “Our focus is on product sales, and we feel like that’s what’s driving our growth,” he noted. “And tough, again, to predict the future, but we see opportunity to grow more.

“Rate is not nearly what it used to be as far as the percent of profit per car, and it’s down dramatically,” he continued. “So, it’s really all on the product side. As far as finance penetration year-over-year, it’s pretty flat.”

Asbury also reported increases elsewhere. Total revenue increased 12% to $1.7 billion, while new-vehicle revenues increased 11%. Revenue from used-vehicle sales increased 15%, while parts and service gross profit was up 14%. Total gross profit was up 9%.

But one area that was lagging was Asbury’s standalone used-car outlets, called Q Auto stores. The stores employ a one-price sales model that is driven by product specialists who handle deals from start to finish using an iPad. The stores saw a loss of $0.02 earnings per share in the second quarter.

Monaghan told callers that the dealer group is currently rolling out a “major piece of technology” in Q Auto stores to increase efficiency, but he noted that the group will not take any further steps until Q Auto locations achieve profitability.

“… We think Q Auto has the potential to be a huge business for us,” the executive added. “But we’ve got to solve the riddle.”

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