By on April 1, 2016

Ford Dealership

Light vehicle sales haven’t peaked in the U.S., but the way they’re being sold is putting automakers in some financial peril.

That warning was delivered by Thomas King, vice-president of the Power Information Network, ahead of this weekend’s National Automobile Dealers Association, Wards Auto reports.

Speaking at the J.D. Power Automotive Summit, King said retail sales of cars and light trucks will rise this year and next, even after a very healthy 2015. Last year saw 14.2 million units reach customers, with volume projected to hit 14.7 million in 2017.

Despite moving more vehicles and rising MRSPs, automakers risk forgoing the financial benefits due to incentives and a growing trend towards leasing.

On average, incentives account for 9.6 percent of a vehicle’s suggested retail price, King said, and that number is up by 0.7 points. That’s drawing close to pre-recession levels.

Cars are more incentivized than trucks, averaging 12.3 percent (or $3,660 per vehicle), while trucks average 8.2 percent. Leasing incentives average $6,710 per vehicle, and the popularity of leasing is booming.

The troubling news for manufacturers and dealers doesn’t end there. Returning off-lease vehicles are flooding dealer lots, negatively effecting residual values. The growing volume of returning cars recently prompted Toyota to start offering pre-owned leasing.

Loan lengths are growing as credit scores are falling, adding to the risk, while an oversupply situation has 31 percent of vehicles resting on lots for 90 days or more. No dealer wants trees growing around their inventory, so the urge to move units in any way possible grows.

“So that’s a pain point for retailers, particularly with the skinny margins (for dealers) on vehicle (sales),” King said.

All of these factors could easily cause automakers to double down on incentives, but King urged “discipline” in order to preserve the industry’s long term health.

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66 Comments on “Sales are Rising, But Incentive-Happy Automakers are Kneecapping Profits...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Cars are more incentivized than trucks, averaging 12.3 percent”

    12.3%!!

    And these are just averages. Companies like FCA are discounting like crazy; it’s easy to find a 200 or Dart for 30%+ off MSRP, and that’s before any negotiation.

    You’ve described a perfect storm. It’s sobering.

    Someone will eventually try to cut out the dealers to save some money. Where are you, Ruggles?

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      How about 20% on Camry? In the end, my relative here swiped Accord with 20%. But it had to be EX (non leather)

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Cutting out the dealers will cost them money. Why would a manufacturing company spend billions of dollars in order to expand into a retail business with tiny margins?

    • 0 avatar
      npaladin2000

      Not surprising…FCA saw the writing on the wall. People want crossovers, it’s harder to move sedans in that environment, but everyone not named FCA is still building them. Much as people might make fun of Mr. Sweater sometimes, he may have beaten the entire industry to the future (where sedans are irrelevant).

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Year-over-Year inventories of new vehicles have risen (and will continue to rise, barring output cuts) dramatically.

      I have credible sources (including companies paid to store new vehicles for manufacturers) and data to prove this.

      • 0 avatar

        One anecdote…my local Chryco Stealer has so many cars, they’ve re jiggered the lot over and over to take more stock. I haven’t seen this, since, oh, 2008. Ruh Roh, shaggy !

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          No, no, this time is completely different. The Federal Reserve learned its lesson and will goose the economy in time. The Federal Reserve notes are being printed as we type!!!

  • avatar

    “Loan lengths are growing as credit scores are falling, adding to the risk, while an oversupply situation has 31 percent of vehicles resting on lots for 90 days or more. No dealer wants trees growing around their inventory, so the urge to move units in any way possible grows.”

    Less productivity in this country and more consumerism forcing MURICA to become more reliant on imported products is the BOTTOM LINE.

    Whoever started the LIE that consumer spending grows an economy was LYING.

    PRODUCTION GROWS AN ECONOMY.

    How can you sell this stuff when fewer and fewer people can afford it?

    The car market’s on fire because so many people can’t buy a house so they have *extra money* to upgrade to a luxury car.

    They offer up to 144-month car loans to move cars in some of these lenders.

    12 Years a Slave – paying for a 4 cylinder econobox.

    What kind of profits can you make when cars begin to sit on lots and it costs more to maintain them than simply sell them at a loss?

    We need to make Murica Great Again.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Just a thought: there are a lot of community colleges near you that offer introductory economics classes. Even without Bernie’s assistance, these classes are quite affordable, especially for someone of your obvious wealth.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Why you guys bother with him, I don’t know. I don’t need to read his comments to know that he’s trolling all of you.

        • 0 avatar

          Pch101

          Lulz

          • 0 avatar
            thornmark

            USAToday reporting that Ford has huge incentives plus 37% fleet sales.

            THat’s 37% fleet sales.
            http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2016/04/01/ford-motor-company-march-2016-auto-sales/82509024/

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            @thornmark, you do realize that the F-Series is the #1 selling vehicle to commercial fleets and commercial fleet sales are highly profitable.

            Take a look at the non minivan van market, how many competitors are there now? Something like 99% of van sales are to commercial fleets. Mercedes, Nissan and FCA entered the market because of the promise of strong, consistent profit margins.

            Also note that this only covers 1 month.

      • 0 avatar
        thornmark

        Actually, Bernie should take an economics course.

        He spent his whole adult life living off the public in one form or another.

      • 0 avatar
        duffman13

        > PRODUCTION GROWS AN ECONOMY.

        From a certain perspective he’s not wrong though, with a few assumptions. The largest one of those is that production requires employment, which in this day and age it does not.

        As a nation we are the most productive we have ever been Our GDP and pure quantity of goods produced is the highest it has been ever. The problem is through capital investment, computer technologies, and the resulting automation that has come from this, we require a minimal amount of employment to accomplish this production. Sure, we still need forklift drivers, QC inspectors, and equipment maintainers, but those are the only required personnel. The large scale employment, i.e. Bob and Joe turning wrenches building widgets for a living wage on an assembly line is over.

        Without employment, production does not matter, because there are not enough customers to buy the goods. However, without a fundamental re-education for most people on how demand drives production, we’ll keep driving in the same circle we’ve been going for the last 30 years.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      I haven’t seen any mainline dealers offering 12 year financing on anything, let alone an economy car. Maybe you are frequenting Steve Lang’s lot or something.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      BTR,
      There is one problem with your ill considered comment;

      “Whoever started the LIE that consumer spending grows an economy was LYING.

      PRODUCTION GROWS AN ECONOMY.”

      Without consumers their is NO production.

      • 0 avatar

        Big Al

        It’s a paradox.

        Yes you need production to feed consumption.

        Yes consumption leads to higher productivity.

        Problem is, America has fewer than 321,000,000 and Asia has over 3,000,000,000 who can produce more- at lower wages – making domestic productivity decrease even as domestic consumption increases.

        The trade imbalances are making us less productive and transferring our wealth out…

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      In the 1989-91 period, I negotiated a JV in China with a Chinese SOE. Throughout the process, the Chinese side kept asking, “what is our production target?”. My response was that “we’ll produce as much as we can get our customers to buy”.

      The Chinese were totally flummoxed by this concept. Apparently, so is BTSR.

      The difference, the Chinese have learned better.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Do manufacturers have stake in parts dealers sell? If yes, than it is obvious – put more cars on the road = sell more parts. And also, they do manufacturer financing. Consider this just another trick to get you buying. You pay less for car but finance through manufacturer- there we go. They still get your money

  • avatar
    tonycd

    I’m not convinced the automakers are ignorant of their own books. The headline makes it sound as if they’d all be charging MSRP and merrily raking in bushel baskets full of money if only they weren’t so foolish as to offer incentives.

    Maybe, just maybe, they’ve correctly perceived that the average American is strapped enough for cash that if they don’t incent, the vehicles won’t sell. Which would idle their production lines and cause other financial negatives for them now and later.

    This topic also came up indirectly in the Sentra review. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that the reason the Sentra sells even though it’s crap is because it’s simply a mid-size backseat and equipment level at a compact price. People are hurting. It affects their buying behavior. The carmakers would be incompetent business people if they didn’t adjust their selling strategies accordingly.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      Or is it that Americans are just used to getting a certain % off of sticker on certain brands, so those brands price that in? Ford, in particular, seems very ambitious with their prices, but their actual transaction prices seem to be about right. Maybe if they didn’t price their cars in a way that they had to knock $4k off the sticker they wouldn’t have to knock $4k off the sticker?

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        OEMs just mark up the window-sticker MSRP and then “offer” the buyer a discount to where the buyer thinks they’re getting a great deal, all the while the OEMs and Dealers are selling at the price point they want.

        It’s the second oldest trick in the books, after prostitution. Who said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” If you are buying a car or truck, you’re being suckered. It’s up to you to decide how much of a sucker you want to be; how much you want that shiny new toy.

        Look at end-of-year sales and the huge discounts, like $10,500 off MSRP on trucks. Hell, even with the $10,500 off MSRP they’re still making money and raking in the dough.

        They rarely sell at break-even, and NEVER at a loss.

        • 0 avatar
          duffman13

          It’s the whole JC Penney problem. Fun read:

          http://business.time.com/2013/05/02/jc-penney-reintroduces-fake-prices-and-lots-of-coupons-too-of-course/

          JC Penney’s CEO thought going with actual pricing on goods would drive consumers to the store. It famously backfired and cost millions in revenue. As fast as it came in, it went away. Prices were inflated somewhere near 100% and 50% off sale signs were hung everywhere, and coupons/circulars advertising huge sales went out in the mail again. Sales then returned to normal, though there was no movement in actual transaction prices.

          TL;DR: People want to feel like they got a deal, and businesses know this. Some of them have learned the hard way.

      • 0 avatar
        Sjalabais

        Do you have a table somewhere listing average incentives, relatively and nominally? I wonder how smaller brands across the spectrum fare, like Mitsubishi and Volvo. It’s basically the big three people talk about here.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “The carmakers would be incompetent business people if they didn’t adjust their selling strategies accordingly.”

      True, but eventually they’ll need to cut production and reduce discounting in order to put the ship higher in the water. Continuing to print out cars at rock-bottom prices is madness.

      As far as knowing their own books, GM and Chrysler didn’t seem to face the truth for many years, until 2009. It could happen again.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    These are the wages of a quarterly outlook. They deserve whatever comes of it.

    Worst part is used cars have never been better. I wouldn’t doubt the majority of 10 year old cars on the road having another 5 years of life in them. Really begs… SCREAMS the question… how do they see this ending?

  • avatar
    319583076

    It’s a cyclical industry – between the emergence of additional competition and the general broadening of product line – there are too many cars available. The result is what we’re seeing here, sacrificing margin in an attempt to keep market share or just offset costs.

    Say what you will about Sergio, but he’s been right about this coming. It’s not going to be pretty and it’s probably going to end at least one or two makes in the North American market.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      The makes it’ll end will mostly be Sergio’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @319583076 – I agree that there is an overproduction capacity in the auto industry. Sergio is terrified of a market adjustment since he happens to be the skipper of one of the weakest ships on the North Sea. That obviously puts him in a position to want to change that sobering fact. GM, Ford et al would rather see his ship sink to the bottom then pull him onboard making their own vessels ride that much lower in the water.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Incentives mean that there are too many cars chasing too few buyers. The obvious solution is to cut back production to a level that can be sold at a reasonable profit.

    Modern automobiles are a marvel of safety, efficiency, cleanliness, performance and comfort compared to what was available fifty years ago. Are such cars too expensive for any but the rich to afford? What would be the selling price of the equivalent to a Ford Falcon, Chevy II or Plymouth Valiant if the manufacturer built it to 1966 standards and used modern technology where it would reduce costs?

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      This is normally correct. But not this time.

      Manufacturers are fighting to preserve market share in the wake of a severe economic downturn while being unable to pass on price increases to their customers. (Customers are paying more for cars, but that’s because they’re buying nicer cars.)

      An OEM in this market would rather bump the MSRPs annually and offset those increases with temporary discounts than freeze prices now only to induce sticker shock later. This is essentially a cyclical issue that will eventually resolve itself.

      • 0 avatar
        npaladin2000

        I don’t think the fact that cars are being incentive more than light trucks is cyclical, I think it’s an indicator of a major market shift that’s been chugging along for a while now. Most manufacturers still make both cars and light trucks, but light trucks (SUVs and crossovers) are easier to sell, and in higher demand. More people want them, and it becomes harder to move things that have trunks hanging off the back. Unless demand recovers (less likely now that CUVs are caching up in the fuel economy department) then we’re going to see manufacturer after manufacturer start cutting back on sedan production…essentially what FCA is already doing, but FCA is partially doing it because they suck at making compact and midsize sedans anyway. ;)

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        Encouraging customers inter nicer cars indirectly improves margins for car companies. Offering a 12k discount on a 70k vehicle for example leaves much more margin for them than a 12k discount on a 45k vehicle.
        A prime example was this Easter when we visited family in the Lower Mainland. Due to the threat of bad weather we went down in my pickup. My sister-in-law also took their truck. She had a Platinum that cost them 17k more than mine. Both trucks sold with similar discounts but as my wife’s cousin’s husband pointed out, there is no way that there is 17k worth of extra stuff in the Platinum.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    3… 2… 1… DeadWeight comment about bubbles and impending financial apocalypse.

    The market is contracting but the makers aren’t yet willing to concede it. They will as soon as it’s cheaper to contract production than to offer incentives, which is coming.

    One of these days this will also result in used car prices dropping a bit, but it isn’t happening yet, even for recent years when production was high.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I would say more eventual than impending myself. The FUBAR has been managed quite well actually.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        The difference between now and previous situations of total financial apocalypse is that we’ve gotten a lot better at muddling through crises. We had a nasty crash and recession after the events of 2008, and a lot of people endured a lot of misery, but society wasn’t remotely in danger. A hundred years ago, or in a less developed place, a similar crisis would have suspended the existence of civil society.

        Muddling through is underrated in general. It’s not pretty, but it works.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      You neglected his working the ATS into the conversation.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Hey Dal – I’m making more $$$ now than I did since 2007, and years 2003 through 2007 were VERY good years.

      And I am doing this while I can see the zero interest rate, central bank-primed fiat paper priming and lubing asset bubbles everywhere around me, and particularly in my area of expertise (commercial, industrial and mixed-use real estate).

      Properties that sold at a 7% cap rate in 2006 are now fetching offers based on a ….

      …wait for it …

      … 2% cap rate (and that’s assuming everything goes ideally for at least ten years; I closed a large deal last Wednesday on such terms).

      So, yeah, we are in a huge asset bubble, and yeah, it’s not going to last forever (permanently high plateau not happening, Irving).

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        p.s. – In your neck of the woods, they’re actually spec’ing commercial buildings in downtown Seattle NOT based on being able to now achieve a net-positive ROI, but on the expectation that continued inflation in commercial rents + property appreciation will allow them to do so eventually.

        In other words, they are building 60mm to 330mm developments in Seattle and Bellevue that are guaranteed to LOSE money once they open for leasing at even the developer’s (optimistic) projected rental rates.

        Is that not a bubble the likes of which we’ve not seen since 2006?

        *Commercial construction costs have risen 36% in just the last 32 months, also.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        What is too high of price based on the cap rate of say, a small eight unit property?

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          It depends on many factors.

          Real estate is intensely location specific.

          Also, if the property in question is being sold on a income-producing basis (vs other formulae of valuation), the quality and credit-worthiness of the tenants will affect how low a market cap the buyer will accept (e.g. – having Boeing as a tenant on a fixed-term lease is safer, and thus more valuable, than “ACME Aviation”).

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Actually you really don’t want Boeing as a tenant in the Seattle area. They have been and are continuing to consolidate operations with the specific goal of putting employees in company owned facilities. If you’ve got a property which Boeing is a tenant you really really want to dump it before the current lease is up as the likely hood of them renewing is very very low.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @DW, @Scoutdude

            Thanks. Sounds like many factors go into it the way many factors go into automotive resale valuation.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Scoutdude, you would want Boeing as tenant vs. Acme Aviation on a fixed-term lease, because even if Boeing vacated the premises prior to the expiration date of their lease, they’d still be on the hook for making rent payments, and the landlord should stand a far greater chance of collecting that rent from Boeing vs. Acme Aviation (as Boeing is essentially too-big-to-fail, whereas Acme could file BK or otherwise avoid being compelled to make rent payments if they were to default).

            Dal – We’re in a bubble when a) we’re seeing speculative projects done on assumed net-negative returns (with lenders, whether banks or private equity, funding these deals, in some cases, on non-recourse loans), and b) one can purchase a 1, 3 or 5 year Taxpayer guaranteed Treasury Note that still yields a nominal positive yield.

            Sorry, but I’ve seen this trainwreck, up close, before.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            DW, rather surprised you of all people are citing Treasuries as a benchmark low-risk investment. (I hold that view, but it’s strikingly inconsistent with your nattering about fiat currency, QE, etc.)

            As to whether I’d rather hold a bunch of Treasuries or a piece of prime Seattle real property on which I was mildly underwater… depends strongly on the property. I’m not sure every deal with a negative expected short-term return is unattractive on a long-term basis.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Yes you can count on Boeing meeting the terms of the contract. However Acme Aviation is the new Boeing. You would be surprised at the number of smaller companies that supply the parts that Boeing assembles into an aircraft.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The cap rate is based on the price and vice versa. So there isn’t too high of a price based on cap rate it is a question of whether the buyer finds the resulting cap rate acceptable.

          For me I won’t go under a ~6% cap rate unless there is some really strong upside potential in a relatively short term.

          Of course cap rate isn’t everything. As DW mentioned some people are willing to accept a lower cap rate if they think that the property will attract or already has a higher quality tenant. The presence of an upside potential will also attract someone willing to accept a lower cap rate.

          Personally I look to balance the cap rate and a strong future upside potential. It has done me pretty well as I just closed on 2 more of the redevelopment opportunities that I’d preserved and are/have sold to a builder.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        So assuming you’re right… and about the CRE market more than the RRE one, which seems a lot more solid, at least around here… what happens?

        A correction, a good deal smaller than the one in 2008-09, a couple years of economic malaise, and off we go again.

        The thing about the Seattle market is the extreme land shortage. We’re naturally severely geographically constrained, by water on one side, mountains on the other, and much unusable hillside/cliffside land. Then we make the geographical constraints worse by imposing an urban growth boundary and preserving a ton of land for open space. Then we make them even worse by making it difficult to get around (no more room for freeways or expanded city streets, no significant amount of high-speed transit, no willingness to build bridges over Puget Sound). Buyers may be spending too much right now, especially commercial buyers, but as a long-term play the risk is remarkably low.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          What is going on in the downtown Seattle and Bellevue commercial and mixed use development business right now is forming a bit of a bubble. It is however not cause for a RE wide concern. It is the nature of the beast in our area and we’ve seen it so many times before. Those people who are getting in now even though there is an initial expected negative return on investment probably know what they are doing and are getting their shovels in the ground as a preemptive strike. The over building will certainly happen and there is a race to be done and spoken for before all the demand is absorbed. The cycle seems to run in intervals of 10-15 years. 2-3 years of rapidly rising rents and extremely low vacancy rates. 2-5 years of intense excessive building. 4-8 years of stagnant rent prices and/or declines along with high vacancy rates and a number of unfinished projects. Eventually the excess space is absorbed and the cycle repeats.

          Now on the residential side of the greater Seattle market, there are some bubbles forming. The biggest one in my opinion are the downtown Condos. There is a lot of mixed use high rise construction going on with what will be too many high end units that will take years to fully absorb. So downtown Condos are an area I wouldn’t put money for the long term, particularly at the upper mid to high end price range. Capitol Hill is another area that I don’t think can support the current rate of appreciation for too much longer. We are seeing a fair amount of redevelopment in the area that should temper the prices.

          However there are still several areas that have a lot of affordable houses. With the current lack of inventory in most areas I expect to see around 10% appreciation this selling season in a number of areas, particularly the under median segments. Right now in most segments a properly priced house in many areas is under contract in a week or two at the most.

          So I do agree that residential in the overall greater Seattle market is going to do fine for the near future.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Every real estate bubble was established on the foundation that “you can’t build more land.” Never fall for that one.

          That being said, I doubt that this current bubble is going to burst during the near or even medium term. There are some fundamental shifts that will induce investors to accept lower returns than they used to, and that’s a structural, not a cyclical change.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            I’m not certain about the rest of the country but what is happening in the Seattle core and Downtown Bellevue is the same cycle that has repeated since not too long after the billboard with the saying “will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights?”

            In general the acceptable cap rate range is a cyclical thing as it will tend to go down as the supply vs demand changes over time.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Scoutdude, the changes in the Seattle area could be a contributing factor to why my sister chose to move to Vancouver, BC, and settle in one of her Canadian husband’s properties.

            She still has her properties in Kent-Desmoines, Poulsbo and Olalla but is renting them out for some serious income.

            I agree, Seattle is going to do fine, and the prices of homes are going up.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Famous last words.

            Simple math makes the current trajectory not only NOT sustainable, but guarantees a huge deflationary wave striking all asset classes (but government bonds) soon.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    A commodity is worth exactly what a buyer will pay for it, not a penny more. Cash on the hood means the car wasn’t worth the asking price in the first place.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Tesla might not be profitable quite yet, but they’re shipping cars as fast as they can make them.

    The Model 3 already has 130k deposits for $1000/each. Even Hellcats don’t generate that kind of interest.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Update: Now it’s about 200k deposits.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Hellcats (both Chargers & Challengers) are $60,000 and up.

        That’s nearly 2x the price of the Model 3.

        Also, the Model 3 may be even less expensive depending on federal credits and state-by-state incentives if/when it does make it to actual production and the delivery phase.

        I’m not denying the geeky, techy & environmental appeal that the new, more affordable Model 3 has spawned, but comparing it in a pre-production, pre’order deposit stage with Hellcat demand is an apples vs oranges comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      jthorner

      So far Tesla has lost money on every car it has made, even though massive tax credits are subsidizing their sales. Time will tell if they can transition into a profitable company without taxpayer subsidies of every purchase.

      As a profit making business, even FCA is ahead of Tesla at the moment.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I do find it entertaining and optimistic this article. I do hope the US economy unfolds as is put forward in this article and improving vehicle sales.

  • avatar
    Prado

    I”m not really seeing much ‘incentive happy’ or great deals outside of mid to lower spec commodity ‘appliance like’ sedans. The prices on anything desirable or fashionable have gone up substantially since the recession. Currently I see demand greater than supply as the reason for the ability of manufactures to raise prices like they have. Once that supply / demand shifts back to the consumers advantage on SUVs and trucks, I expect pricing to drop. Or at least I can hope!

  • avatar
    zip89105

    It’s just one month folks, and while the deals are above average, they’re not outstanding. Toyota lost a few points even with 0% for 72 months APR on their best sellers. It’s way too early to tell what the future holds for 2016.

  • avatar
    eamustangs

    I can’t get the local Dodge dealer to discount a new 2015 Charger R/T as much as I would expect/like

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