EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 6, 2013

New models make 2013 outlook brighter

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — The year 2012 was a good one for the auto business. Car dealers across America sold approximately 14.5 million vehicles through the 12-month span. That was about 12 percent more than the prior year, 2011, when recovery from the rock-bottom recession levels of 2008 and ‘9 gained momentum.

Observers of the car biz expect more improvement this year. They prophesy that annual U.S. car sales will top 15 million in 2013. That will put them one year away from fully recovering to the 16-million-plus level achieved before the recession hit about five years ago, the prognosticators predict.

Desirable new models that tempt drivers into showrooms certainly will help propel another year of growth. For a glimpse at new, 2013 introductions that fit the formula, I asked area dealers to list the new vehicles they find most promising.

Toyota Avalon

“The new Avalon is a really hot car,” said Zack Mangold, sales manager at Rockingham Toyota Scion Honda in Salem, N.H. “It’s gone to a younger look, with a more stylish, more hip exterior that’s hitting a new audience.”

Toyota positions the Avalon as a premium mid-size sedan. That separates it from the top-selling Toyota Camry, a model designed with more mass appeal. The re-engineering and re-styled, 2013 Avalon looks the premium part, with a fluidly athletic body shape. At a starting price of $31,785, the car comes with such features as power adjustable, heated front leather seats, heated outside mirrors, touch-screen audio display and alloy wheels. In addition to the standard, V6-powered model, the 2013 Avalon also includes a hybrid-drive version. It starts at $36,350, just $2,360 higher than a gas-powered Avalon with the same level of features.

The new, 2013 Avalon went on sale in early December. “Interest has really spiked,” said Mangold of Rockingham Toyota. “People are coming in requesting them. They’re selling as they arrive at the dealership.”

Buick Encore

The new Buick Encore combines alluring amenities with useful practicality in a compact, manageable package.

“Buick is going in a new direction with this car,” stated Kevin Bihl, internet sales manager at Bill DeLuca Chevrolet Buick GMC, Haverhill. An all-new introduction for 2013, the Encore is a compact crossover, smaller than similar vehicles sold by Buick so far. One big advantage of its scaled-down size is superior fuel economy, Bihl noted. Buick advertises that a front-drive version of Encore has a higher fuel-economy rating than competing models sold by Ford or Chrysler, at 25 miles-per-gallon city, 33 mpg highway. When equipped with optional, all-wheel drive, Encore’s fuel-use rating drops to 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway.

The new Buick Encore starts at $24,950 for a front-drive model, with all-wheel drive adding $1,500. In keeping with Buick’s position as a premium car brand, the Encore includes a seven-inch color screen for audio control, active noise cancellation, 10 air bags, rearview camera, power driver’s seat and heated outside mirrors.

The new model is scheduled to arrive early this year.

“We’re hoping to have our first one this month,” said Bihl of DeLuca. “I’ve been getting e-mails asking about it since prior to Christmas.”

Ford C-Max

The new C-Max is Ford’s answer to the Toyota Prius, explains Joseph Cullinan, sales manager of Regan Ford in Haverhill. Prius enjoys a long reign as the most popular gasoline/electric hybrid-drive car. But the 2013 C-Max aims to exceed the Prius in terms of fuel economy and value, according to Cullinan.

“A C-Max goes for about $2,000 to $3,000 less than a comparable Prius,” he stated. “For the money, it’s a well-equipped package.” The starting list price is $25,995.

Ford calls the new model a “multi-activity vehicle,” meant to signify that the C-Max fulfills versatile and diverse transportation needs.

“It has a lot of space in it for passengers and a lot of space for cargo,” said Cullinan.

Yet the model maximizes gasoline savings with its dual-power, gas/electric drive system, the sales manager noted. The fuel-mileage rating for the C-Max Hybrid, at 47 mpg city and highway, exceeds the performance of the Prius V, according to Ford. The V is the family-sized version of the Prius.

Regan Ford began selling the new C-Max Hybrid when the first models arrive in December, said Cullinan. Demand has been strong, he stated, and the dealership is awaiting the arrival of the C-Max Energi, a plug-in version capable of extending its operation in all-electric mode.

Chevrolet Impala

Charles Daher Jr., manager at Commonwealth Motors, Lawrence, expects the new Chevy Impala to make a splash.

“It’s going to be the hit that Chevy is looking for,” he said.

Due to arrive this spring as a 2014 model, the redesigned Impala will be the 10th generation of one of the most enduring model lines in the car business. The four-door, five-passenger Impala is a full-size sedan. The new version has a body design that is both bolder and more elegantly sculpted than the outgoing model, with brow-like creases high on the back fenders that anchor the fast-sloping rear roof. The new Impala will offer a choice of three engines, ranging from a 182-horsepower four-cylinder with electric assist to boost fuel economy, to a V6 that produces more than 300 horsepower.

Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, will announce pricing for the 2014 Impala closer to its spring introduction. The current, ninth-generation version starts at $26,685.

While the Impala was America’s top-selling full-size sedan in 2011, Daher of Commonwealth expects that new version to capture a greater share of glory while it retains popularity.

Nissan Altima Sedan

The 2013 Nissan Altima Sedan went on sale in July, as a redesigned, fifth-generation version of Nissan’s top-selling passenger car. But even after about six months of exposure, public enthusiasm for the new model has not weakened, reports Bret Chavaree, co-owner of Salem Nissan in Salem, N.H.

“People love the redesign,” he said. They’re drawn to its glossy, sleekly elongated and boldly contoured body, he stated. The like the feel of what Nissan calls Altima’s “zero-gravity seats,” which are based on space-program studies of natural body positions during weightlessness. Drivers also appreciate the fuel economy of the new version, said Chavaree.

Significant improvements in the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine available in Altima boost fuel economy by about 30 percent over the prior model, he noted. The government gives the new Altima a rating of 27 mpg city, 38 mpg highway. When equipped with a more powerful, V6 engine, the vehicle’s ratings drop to 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway.

The 2013 Altima sedan starts at a list price of $22,280. A sporty two-door version of Altima, called the Altima Coupe, was not redesigned for 2013, but carries over largely unchanged from 2012.