Americans buy a lot of cars — approximately 85 million in the last five years. And as you may have noticed, car companies spend every fall and winter making major holiday advertising pushes to sell vehicles before the end of the year.
The data indicates this marketing blitz(en) is having an effect. ValuePenguin examined the country's top car brands and found that more than 60% of them have their largest single sales month in December. The sales are likely driven by discounts, as dealers look to offload existing inventory, even at a lower price, to meet annual goals and clear inventory.
Car brands most likely to end up in your driveway this Christmas
December tends to be the biggest month for car sales, as the top brands sell a combined average of almost 1.7 million vehicles in December.
But some brands have much larger sales than others during the holiday season. Whether people are buying it for themselves or as a gift for another, Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda and Nissan rank as the brands most likely to show up in people's driveways this month.
For each brand, we've noted their average sales numbers in December and its sales as a share of the total December sales of the top 29 brands in the country.
Ford is the top-selling brand in December
Making up 13.6% of all sales for our sample brands, Ford is the top-selling brand in the most busy car sales month of the year. Ford sold an average of 222,534 vehicles in December alone in the most recent three-year period.
The most popular car in Ford's lineup during its most recent quarter was the Ford F-Series, its core pickup truck line.
Chevrolet is the second top-selling brand this month
Chevrolet sold 202,852 vehicles on average during the last four Decembers. That's good for a 12.4% share of our sample brands. The top-selling Chevrolet model is the Silverado, another pickup truck.
Toyota ("Let's go") places third for sales in the holiday season
Toyota is the biggest foreign brand for December sales. It has sold an average of 191,602 cars over the past several Decembers, and sales are led by the RAV4, a leading compact crossover SUV.
"Happy Honda Days" can only get the Japanese brand to fourth
Despite the "Happy Honda Days" marketing push you've likely seen every year, Honda comes in a distant fourth for holiday car sales. It has only sold 137,499 vehicles per December on average, about 50,000 less than fellow Japanese multinational Toyota. The biggest Honda seller is the CR-V, another compact SUV.
Nissan rounds out the top five for end-of-year car sales
Just behind Honda, Nissan averaged 127,814 sales in December during the past four years. That makes up 7.8% of total sales for our sample brands. Its top product is the Nissan Rogue, meaning that of the five most popular December brands, two of the leading models are pickup trucks, while three are crossover compact SUVs.
Auto want for Christmas is you: car brands most reliant on a holiday push
Some brands rely on December sales more than others. Although the following brands don't rank among the biggest December sellers by absolute sales, they rely more on the holiday season to generate sales than any other carmakers.
December makes up the biggest share of annual sales for the following brands:
- Land Rover
Lexus: sales in December are 44% higher than a typical month
From 2015 to 2018, Lexus has sold 26,655 vehicles per month, on average.
In recent Decembers, Lexus has sold 38,387 cars, on average, a whopping 44% bump from other months. For comparative purposes, among our 29 sample brands, the average difference in vehicles sold between a peak month and a typical month for a given brand was 24%.
Infiniti: holiday sales are 42% above monthly trends
Infiniti — a manufacturing division of Nissan — is a close second to Lexus. While Infiniti has only sold around 12,000 vehicles per month in recent years, that number jumps to almost 17,000 in December.
Cadillac: car sales jump 37% in the holiday season compared to the rest of the year
Cadillac, a division of General Motors, also sees a spike in December sales. The Detroit-based manufacturer has sold approximately 14,000 vehicles per month over the last few years. In the December months of recent years, sales top 19,000, its highest monthly average by far.
Volvo: a December sales boost 37% above the norm
The Swedish manufacturer Volvo is another beneficiary of December sales in America.
- In recent years, Volvo has sold an average of 6,925 cars per month.
- In December, that number is 9,494, easily the biggest figure of any month.
Land Rover: British manufacturer receives a big boost in its American market sales
From 2015 to 2018, Land Rover sold about 6,486 cars per month in the U.S. Like the aforementioned brands, however, it receives a big boost in December. Sales in that month are up 36% compared to the rest.
Why December is a good time to shop for cars
December is a great time for consumers to save on a car purchase — whether it's a gift or for themselves — but you actually might get the best savings after Christmas Day. Why? Because dealers are often trying to meet annual sales goals and emptying their inventory, especially cars from the previous model year.
According to Edmunds.com, December is the month with the most incentives and the highest average discount off MSRP: 6.1%. Incentives may include low APR financing and lease specials.
Gifting a car this season? What you need to know
Most shoppers buying a car in December are probably self-gifting (there's nothing wrong with that — treat yourself), but in the event you are indeed buying a friend or loved one a car, there are some steps you need to take, depending on your situation.
- You'll have to buy a car in full or finance the purchase in your name.
- After the recipient gets the car, you'll have to transfer the title.
- The recipient will have to get insurance.
To gift a vehicle, you'll have to purchase it in your name
You have to fully own your vehicle to transfer it to another person, so you should be giving a vehicle you can afford to pay for in full. This is easy if you already own the vehicle, but it's a big financial investment if you're purchasing a new vehicle.
If you're leasing a vehicle, the lease can be in your name, but the giftee won't be the true owner of the vehicle. This matters less if they're a family member and you plan to share car ownership duties.
Once the recipient receives their present, you can transfer the title to them
Once you've purchased the car in full and gifted it, you can transfer the title of ownership to the giftee. To do this, you must participate in everyone's favorite holiday activity: visiting the DMV. There, you'll have to fill out paperwork and pay a small fee to complete the transfer of title.
The new owner will have to get car insurance, if they don't have it already
Almost every state (New Hampshire excluded) requires a certain amount of car insurance coverage. If the giftee already has car insurance, they just need to add the new vehicle to the policy. If they don't, they should browse multiple insurers to find their cheapest rate or best service, depending on their objectives.
If the giftee is a family member, it's always a good idea to have a policy that covers all members of the household, if possible. For example, the cost of a policy covering a family of four is usually less than the cost of four separate car insurance policies for each individual family member.
ValuePenguin examined U.S. automobile sales data from 2015 through 2018 of 29 auto and light truck makes. Brands were limited to the 29 with at least 50,000 units sold in the U.S in calendar year 2018. Tesla was one of these 29 brands but excluded from analysis given its rapid sales growth in recent years.
Beginning in 2018, some manufacturers (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler and GMC) began reporting sales figures on a quarterly basis. For those makes, 2015-2017 data was analyzed. Sales data was collected from carsalesbase.com.
Data on the top-selling model for a given brand in its most recent quarter was collected from goodcarbadcar.net.