We've all seen those car commercials where some unsuspecting person opens the front door on Christmas morning to find a shiny new car sitting in the driveway with a monstrous red bow on top. It's an image burned into our fantasies by powerfully suggestive ad campaigns. But to whom does this actually happen?
Ronnie Hamilton, of Snoqualmie Ridge, for one. The 15-year-old Eastside Catholic School sophomore has worked hard this year and kept his grades up. He had a deal with his dad that if he held up his part of the bargain, then next year he could start looking for a car. Price limit: $25,000.
However, the car came early as a combined birthday/Christmas gift. And rather than a used car, Ronnie received a 2010 Lexus IS 250, a "built to race" dream machine with a base price of $35,475.
- Automakers average a 16 percent sales boost in December over November. Average increases for selected makes, 2006-08:
- Lexus: 29 percent
- Mercedes: 22 percent
- Subaru: 22 percent
- BMW: 21 percent
- Jaguar: 20 percent
- Porsche: 17 percent
- Ford: 16 percent
- Honda: 15 percent
- Source: WardsAuto.com
"I did not expect this. Not at all," said a beaming Hamilton, just moments after being informed that the showroom model he was "just testing out" had already been sold -- to his dad.
"We were going to have him go out and get a job, and then match his money for a down payment," says Ronnie's father, Brian Cohen. "But in the end, rather than [him] having to juggle work and studying, I decided I'd rather have school take 110 percent."
December is a popular time to buy autos. Carmakers, on average, get a 16 percent sales boost in December over November, according to WardsAuto.com. And while there are no official data available on how many of the cars bought in December will end up with bows on top, local dealers say it's a smaller number than those taking advantage of dealership promotions or year-end tax write-offs.
"I'd say 3 to 4 percent of new-car buyers [in December] set it up around a holiday," says Lin Loya, sales manager at Toyota of Seattle. He sees mostly men buying cars for their wives; often they'll come in together "just to look," he says, and then the husband will come back later to buy it as a surprise.
Luxury carmakers get the biggest holiday boost. During the past three years, luxury brands such as Mercedes and BMW have averaged sales increases of more than 20 percent in December, WardsAuto.com data shows.
Lexus, which popularized the concept of cars as Christmas gifts with its "December to Remember" ad campaign that began in 1998, saw a December increase of 30 percent last year -- and it wasn't just older models that sold. "Our sales events are on brand-new stuff," says Nick Wilcox, sales manager at Lexus of Bellevue, where Cohen bought his son's new car. "It's the biggest month of the year for us."
Jaguar already has had a good holiday season. Its 2010 XJL Supercharged Neiman Marcus Edition, with a limited run of 50 units priced at $105,000, sold out in pre-orders within four hours of going on sale Oct. 16.
Chris Cunningham, sales manager at Seattle Luxury Cars, says that people who give a car as a gift want to indulge. "Buying a car is a big purchase, and when you're buying it for someone else it's even harder to know what to buy," he says. "I recommend a fun car that [recipients] want but wouldn't normally buy for themselves."