Turn on the TV this week and you’ll be hard-pressed to go more than a few minutes without hearing about one Black Friday sale or another. With the economy still struggling, retailers are desperate to ensure they get momentum going into the holiday season.
But while Black Friday has traditionally been the purview of discount, department and toy stores, the auto industry is going for a piece of the action this year – and perhaps for good reason. As consumers gear up for gift-giving, they often put car-buying on hold. With some worrisome signs that the spring-summer surge in the U.S. car market slowing down, automakers also want to end the year with a bang.
“Big-box retailers aren't the only ones broadcasting Black Friday discounts. Automakers have thrown their, uh, pilgrim hats in the ring,” says Ethan Hertzberg, a marketing programs associate for Cars.com.
The website tallied the special deals being offered by various manufacturers and found some running as much as $5,000 for what has traditionally been the busiest shopping day of the year. GMC, for example, is taking up to $5,000 off the price of its Sierra 1500 Crew Cab, no small discount considering the fact that the pickup truck market has rebounded substantially in recent months after several years of decline.
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General Motors’ other brands are also offering up special deals, Buick spokesman Nick Richards suggesting the maker is out to “break through the clutter” of ads that have filled the airwaves this week.
In many parts of the country, Ford will give Black Friday shoppers special prepaid MasterCards worth up to $1,500 on select models, above and beyond other incentives it’s already offering.
Hyundai’s “Black Friday Week” deals include zero-percent financing on the popular Elantra sedan.
A decidedly unscientific survey of a dozen car dealers around the country found none planning to open on Thursday, despite the growing trend by national retailers to begin their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day.
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“I have to have one day off,” laughed John “Ozzie” Oswald, the sales manager at Summit Place Kia, in Waterford, Michigan. But expect him in the showroom bright and early on Friday, which he says has become “a pretty good day for us” due to all the various promotions his dealership is offering.
Like the rest of the industry, Summit Place Kia has to face the fact that “December is pretty much the worst month of the year” for selling a car, adds Oswald, as consumers shift their disposable income to smaller gifts for family and friends. So, building some momentum for at least a few days after Thanksgiving can give a dealer a big boost to get through the slow month to come.
"The discounts from dealerships, as well as manufacturers' incentives, generate the highest discounts of the year on Black Friday," said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst with data tracking service Truecar.com.
For a shopper willing to wait, the payoff can be substantial, according to Toprak, typically a discount of several hundred dollars more than what dealers come up with immediately before or after Black Friday.
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Auto dealers are traditionally some of the biggest spenders when it comes to local market advertising, but to stand out during the frenzy of commercials this time of year, many push things to the extreme. Few go as far as Houston’s Sterling McCall Toyota, however.
Back in 2008, as the U.S. automotive market began to collapse, the retailer launched what has become its annual Slicer Sale to get shoppers into its showroom. On Friday morning, crowds typically begin to gather as early as 5 a.m. as the lot officially opens at 7 a.m. At that point, the frenzy begins, potential buyers race to jump into the cars they want.
Whoever is in the driver’s seat this Friday will get first dibs on the car when, at 9 a.m. used-car manager Dan Minner will make the rounds of the lot, placing discount stickers on as many as 200 vehicles. Three of them will be priced at only $1.
Typically, Sterling McCall sells as much as 40 percent of its inventory on Black Friday.