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Goodbye 2012, Hello Hot Auto Deals

Tue., Dec. 4, 2012

Smart shoppers can take advantage of deep discounts on select new cars and trucks as the end of the calendar year approaches.

Shopping is regarded as something of a recreational sport this time of the year, from the initial rush of Black Friday, to last-minute holiday madness and clearance sales the final week in December. While many of us are caught up finding the best deals on everything from tablet computers and diamond earrings to laughing Elmo dolls and Chia Pets, experts advise that this is also the best time of the year to garner the deepest discounts on a new car or truck.

“Automakers are offering some of their highest incentives, particularly on last year’s models and excess inventory, and dealers are motivated to reach specific year-end sales objectives set by the manufacturers.” says Jesse Toprak, vice-president of industry trends for the new-car-buying website Plus, automakers advertise extensively to help bring shoppers into dealerships, and everyone involved wants to ensure those promotional dollars turn into sales.

While Toprak says the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is usually the period in which car shoppers can strike some of the sweetest deals on closeout models, he cautions that those waiting until the last minute might find what’s remaining in a dealer’s inventory to be lacking. “There’s usually a reason why some cars have been sitting on the lot for months,” he says. “They’re kind of like the fruit at the bottom of the basket at the supermarket - what remains in stock could be in odd colors or undesirably equipped.”

And at that, Toprak cautions, don’t expect new-car dealers to revoke the laws of supply and demand just because the calendar reads December 31. Shoppers can expect unpopular and overstocked models to be offered with the deepest discounts, while the hottest-selling rides may still command at or close to sticker price.

Based on this year’s sales trends, we can expect large sedans and full-size SUVs and pickups will continue to boast both the deepest dealer discounts and the largest manufacturers’ incentives. For example, in November, Ford was selling the full-size Taurus sedan with a $3,000 cash rebate, while Nissan was offering $2,000 cash back on the 2013 version of its full-size Armada SUV and $4,000 on the nearly-identical 2012 models. Chevrolet meanwhile was tempting truck buyers with $4,500 rebates on the full-size Avalanche pickup.

Compact and subcompact cars, along with small crossover SUVs, which continue to be top-sellers for their low sticker prices and top fuel economy ratings, should be receiving the slimmest discounts, with little or no manufacturers’ incentives. Still, we were able to find a few closeout 2012-model small cars being sold with generous rebates, including up to $1,500 on the Kia Forte and $2,000 on the Ford Focus.

We expect automakers to maintain these and other incentives through at least through the end of the year to help dealers clear their inventories and end 2012 sales on a high note.

Based on figures from 2011 provided by, expect New Year’s Eve to afford the best deals of the month, with an estimated average discount of around 9.3 percent below sticker price (running higher or lower given the dealer’s supply and the demand for a particular model). The next-best day to go car shopping is said to be December 30, with an anticipated 8.9 percent average discount, followed by the 27th, 28th and 29th, at 8.8, 8.8 and 8.7 percent, and Christmas Eve (December 24, when few patrons tend to come walking through a dealership’s door) at 8.7 percent.

Astute shoppers may even get the dealership to throw in one of those oversized bows often seen atop new cars in automakers’ holiday sale commercials, just for good measure.

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