December has evolved from a wasteland into a wonderland for new-car dealers.

December has evolved from a wasteland into a wonderland for new-car dealers.

In the past four years, December was the best or second-best month of the year for new cars sold in the United States, helped by aggressive discounts and advertising.

This is a dramatic shift from the 1990s and early 2000s, when the month was more likely to be near the bottom of the sales chart than the top.

“It used to be that December was a slow month, and you might sell a few mid-luxury or high-end luxury cars a few days before Christmas,” said George Byers Kauffman, vice president of Byers Auto, whose company sells 16 brands at locations across central Ohio.

Lexus was one of the first brands to focus on the end of the year with its “December to Remember” campaign. Now, just about every automaker has a holiday sales plan.

“It began in the luxury arena and certainly trickled down to the mainstream vehicles,” said Jeremy Acevedo, an auto analyst for Edmunds.com. “Everybody’s onboard because they don’t want to concede any sales to close the year.”

December emerged as a top sales month in 2009, when dealers sold 1.03 million units, that year’s second-best month. At the time, analysts didn’t make much of the seasonal trend because those sales were in the midst of the Great Recession.

Then, in 2010, December sales were 1.15 million, which was the best month of the year. In 2011 and 2012, December was second-best.

This year, the promotional push has begun already and will continue through the end of 2013.

Here is a taste of what the companies are doing:

• Honda calls its event “Happy Honda Days.” This year it has a series of tongue-in-cheek ads featuring singer Michael Bolton and a promotional interest rate of 0.9 percent on some vehicles.

• Cadillac is advertising its “Season’s Best” event, with the tag line, “Get the Cadillac you so richly deserve.”

• Nissan has the “Season to Choose” event, with low lease offers and zero percent financing for the Altima sedan.

• Jeep calls its campaign “Big Finish 2013” and is offering discounts for almost its entire lineup.

“The manufacturers have put out some really good lease deals,” Kauffman said. “In the past, it wasn’t that strong.”

He has noticed that his Jeep and Subaru sales have been particularly strong at the end of the past few years.

Some customers want a large novelty bow to go with their auto purchase. Kauffman sees this in the few days before Christmas, usually for luxury vehicles.

In other words, the procrastinators are the most likely to splurge on a gift.

For this reason, his stores have a few bows at the ready.

“The people who want a bow can have it,” he said.

dgearino@dispatch.com

@dispatchenergy

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©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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