SANTA MONICA, Calif. ( MainStreet) -- Car prices aren't going down and incentives aren't increasing any time soon, so car buyers may as well take any discount they can get.Japanese automakers Toyota ( TM) and Honda ( HMC) are starting to recover from supply shortages cause by the March tsunami and earthquake, U.S. automakers Ford ( F), GM ( GM) and Chrysler are countering with sought-after updates and models and Korean carmakers Hyundai/Kia continues to stress cost and value. As a result, automobile pricing site TrueCar expects Toyota and Honda to announce sales increases of 0.4% and 15.2% from August. Ford sales are forecast to jump 8.5% from last September, Chrysler's in line for a 20.5% boost and GM is expected to top them at 21.2%. Hyundai/Kia, meanwhile, may lap the field with a bump of as much as 24.5% as the entire industry sees sales improve by 10.1%. "New-vehicle sales are doing particularly well, even with worries of a recession and another wild month for the financial markets in September, " said Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights for TrueCar.com. "If the current trends hold, we expect 2011 total new light-vehicle sales to be 12.75 million units -- up 10% from 2010." That recovery is a nasty turn for the average car buyer, who got 0.9% fewer incentive dollars from auto manufacturers last month. Chrysler and Ford's new-found fortunes made shelling out for incentives a lot less necessary and dropped their incentive spending by 7.3% and 7.7% respectively -- though Chrysler's is still tops among all automakers at an average $3,369 per vehicle. Hyundai/Kia's been doing such a bang-up job moving Sonatas and Sportages off the lot this year that their buyer incentives have shrunk by nearly 19% to a large-manufacturer low of $1,454. Honda and Toyota, meanwhile, aren't being quite so stingy. Honda's average incentive increased 7.5%, to $2,370, from last September, while Toyota's jumped a whopping 16.5%, to $2,472, during that time. "Now that Honda and Toyota have increased levels of inventory, they are spending money at record levels to move cars," said Kristen Andersson, automotive analyst at TrueCar.com. Those soaring sales and sporadic incentives make the 2011 models lingering on dealer lots the last refuge for a frugal consumer. There's still a stockpile of leftover luxury cars, spurned SUVs and misfit minivans sitting at dealerships across the country that made TrueCar's list of 2011 vehicles that have grown more affordable in their advanced age:
Average paid: $27,504
The Pilot was redesigned for 2012, which makes that $1,626 discount on the two-wheel-drive, four-door LX model seem just a little light. Compared with a $32,000 Chevy Traverse, a $35,000 GMC Acadia or a $29,000 Toyota Highlander, however, that $27,500 price looks a little more like a deal. That reduction's a bit more necessary if Honda's going to move its Pilot surplus against similarly priced Ford Explorers and Jeep Grand Cherokees, which have each outsold the Pilot this year amid Honda's supply shortages. Even under those circumstances, however, Honda's managed to increase sales of the Pilot more than 4% this year, making it, the CR-V and the Insight the only Hondas to get any traction this year.
Average paid: $32,728
Yet another model that got a facelift for 2012 and just looks like an ugly stepsister sitting next to it on the lot. The new version has better fuel economy, LED running lights and taillights, an E-Class-style interior and an available coupe package. The 2011? Well, the sedan's sport model with a 3.0-liter engine is $2,137 cheaper and still has the emblem. Even Mercedes enthusiasts have been reluctant to jump into this model before the 2012 overhaul and helped stall C-Class sales by more than 4% this year.
Average paid: $19,624
Ordinarily, a carmaker's staple midsize like the Camry wouldn't see a deep end-of-year discount. Then again, this hasn't been an ordinary year for Toyota. Still reeling from last year's recalls and facing production slowdowns thanks to the Japan earthquake and tsunami, Toyota watched sales fall by more than 8% this year and sales of its newly redesigned Camry drop by more than 7%. Granted, this discount applies only to a sedan with manual transmission, but a midsized car that gets a combined 30 miles per gallon shouldn't have required this much incentive to sell under normal circumstances. It's not the only Toyota powerhouse on this list, however...
Average paid: $25,130
This actually wasn't such a bad year for the Sienna. Buyers really took to redesigned features including an improved 180-degree backup camera, sliding second row and keyless ignition and helped improve sales by nearly 19% this year. It's actually outsold its biggest competitor, the Honda Odyssey, by thousands of vehicles so far this year. So why cut the price? Well, the 266-horsepower V6 version of the vehicle Toyota's discounting may have been more than most frugal, family-first carbuyers needed. Also, if you have a version of the same high-performing minivan on the lot that's a year younger, that older version's just taking up space and making the 2012 look costly by comparison.
Average paid: $27,924
The Grand Cherokee was a beast in the first year of its redesign, more than doubling sales so far this year, overtaking the Honda Pilot's sales numbers and far surpassing the Toyota Highlander. The problem is that the redesigned Ford Explorer was similarly fearsome, improving sales 119% this year and outselling the Grand Cherokee by nearly 10,000 vehicles. Chrysler has responded by introducing the 6.4-liter, 469-horsepower hemi V8 SRT-8 Grand Cherokee for 2012 that's more fuel efficient than the current 5.7-liter hemi V8 model. That may help the Grand Cherokee beat Ford off the line in 2012, but the 2011 model's race is run. If it's any consolation, the Explorer doesn't even go easy on members of its own family ...
Average paid: $29,053
That redesigned Explorer's gain has been the Flex's loss. It may look like an oversized Mini Cooper, but the Flex deserves more than the superficial sneers and the 24% sales slide it's faced since the new Explorer came around. It's spacious, it has 44 inches of legroom for tall guys in the second row and a power folding mechanisms that make getting into the third row easy even for someone the size of an NBA power forward. Options such as sliding second-row captain's seats, Microsoft ( MSFT) Sync phone, entertainment and navigation systems, DVD entertainment center for the back, a multipanel sunroof and second-row fridge console for road sodas didn't help sales figures budge an inch. Critics at Consumer Reports and Edmunds still love it, though, and that nearly $4,000 discount on a four-wheel drive six-seater might make a buyer fall in love with this Ford-lot Cinderella, too.
Average paid: $21,133
Sometimes, a car's time is just up. There was nothing necessarily wrong with this year's Altima. Its sales are up more than 18% this year, it's outselling the Honda Accord and Ford Fusion and it's a dependable, affordable vehicle. Does it help that it's getting radically revamped for 2013? Not necessarily, but this year's buyers didn't seem to care. Nissan ( NSANY) doesn't even seem to be sweating it, as Nissan and Infiniti sales are up more than 13% this year. The only folks who seem worried about the Altima are dealers who just want to start selling more new Altimas and are willing to drop $3,000 off the price of some manual models just to get them off the lot. In this case, learning to drive stick pays off.
Average paid: $39,038
There are few cars less loved than the last model year of a generation of luxury makes. The 2011 was the farewell for the fifth-generation 3 Series and its decidedly dated mid-2000s body type. The new model will be rounded out like the 5 Series and 7 Series and filled with all of its richer sibilings' new toys, including night vision, radar-adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning system, a driver waking system and collision-preventing automatic brakes. Yep, it just makes all of the old 3 Series features such as active cruise control and steering and xenon headlights seem so standard. An almost $6,000 drop in the car's price, however, takes some of the sting out of the 2011 3 Series' lost status.
Average paid: $19,940
Yet another midsize making up for the fact it's old news. The Malibu is Chevy's horse, but the 2012 model begins the Malibu's eighth generation and adds some fairly significant updates, including Chevrolet's new MyLink system combining online apps such as Pandora and Bluetooth telephone connection with GM's OnStar navigation, crash response, diagnostics and roadside assistance. It also kicks up the safety features with dual-stage front airbags for the driver and passenger, pelvic/thorax side-impact and knee airbags in the front as well and roof rail airbags with rollover protection. Throw in mileage that tops out at 33 miles per gallon on the highway and the 2012 makes the previous generation that looked so innovative when it introduced two-tone interiors and OnStar back in 2008 seem like a museum piece. The nearly $4,000 discount is a nice parting gift, though.
Average paid: $20,184
The Jeep for non-Jeep drivers finally gets its upgrade as Chrysler keeps wiping the stain of its pre-bailout, pre-Fiat-buyout days from consumer memory. The Liberty is the third-best selling vehicle in Jeep's fleet, but the last to get an overhaul. Details on the upgrade are vague at best, but that's still better than what the lesser-selling Jeep Patriot and Jeep Compass got: a one-year lifeline, and replacement by a Fiat model by the end of 2012. Frankly, it could go either way for the Liberty. The vehicle replaced the standard Cherokee and could be seen as essential to the Jeep line and get a full-on upgrade. It could also just get a few tweaks until Fiat decides what to do with it. Either way, this is likely the last known commodity potential Jeep Liberty buyers will see for a while. A nearly $4,000 discount with nothing new on the horizon may seem ominous, but it's a great opportunity if the Liberty's what you're in love with. -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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