Memorial Day Brings Out Car Deals, Even during Pandemic, Especially for 2019 Models

Sebastian Blanco
Photo credit: jetcityimage - Getty Images

From Car and Driver

  • It's the first big car-shopping weekend since COVID-19 changed how we live, but some things remain the same.
  • Dealerships have been spending more on advertising this month and are keeping some of the COVID-inspired incentives around.
  • The best average deals are available on trucks and SUVs and can be quite good if you're looking at last year's models.

Auto dealerships across the country are working to keep their cars and showrooms clean, maybe offering contactless vehicle delivery, and in general responding to the coronavirus pandemic in ways to assure the public that it's safe to shop. But what car buying really comes down to, for many people, is the deals. Memorial Day weekend is always a time for U.S. dealers to roll out the incentives, and this year won't be any different, coronavirus notwithstanding.

Consumers seem to be ready, according to a survey of people currently in the market to buy, conducted by Cars.com. It found that not only are 33 percent of these Americans looking to buy a car this holiday weekend, but these shoppers actually moved up their purchase timeline because they're concerned about the virus and because they expect deep discounts this weekend. It's the first major holiday sales weekend since COVID-19 caused shutdowns in March, and it comes as more states are loosening stay-at-home restrictions.

Dealerships are getting ready for the Memorial Day shoppers with increased ad spending. PureCars CEO Jeremy Anspach told Car and Driver that ad spending on new-vehicle deals is up 19 percent so far in May compared to all of April, when most of the country was shut down. Used-vehicle ads are up 8 percent, and branded messages are up 35 percent.

Some of those ads are letting potential customers know exactly which deals are still available, since not all of the headline-grabbing incentives remain on the figurative lot. Cox Automotive found that some of the most popular, like zero-percent APR for 84 months can still be found for some vehicles, but there are "noticeably fewer" of these offers than could be had three weeks ago.

That doesn't mean people who might head out to the local dealership this weekend won't expect more than they'll receive. Cox says a full 90 percent of shoppers believe there are "great deals out there." First responders and military families will likely get the best deals, given that it's Memorial Day, and some pickups—especially Chevrolet, Nissan and Ram—come with large incentives attached. Cox found deals for Nissan Titan diesel models that included $8750 in guaranteed cash, and said Chevrolet and Ram were also offering decent incentives. The best deals for mid-size SUVs are for 2019 Chevy and 2020 Nissan vehicles.

Edmunds says it has found more generous incentives and deals than are typical for Memorial Day weekends of years past. The best deals for 2019 models can be had on full-size trucks (an average discount of 17 percent off MSRP) and SUVs (14.4 percent for midsize and 16.3 percent for subcompact). For 2020 vehicles, the discounts are lower, but still notable: 13.4 percent for full-size trucks, 11 percent for mid-size SUVs, and 13.5 percent for subcompact SUVs.

One reason the deals for Memorial Day weekend are not as widespread across vehicle segments and brands is lower overall inventory, given the months of production shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. That doesn't mean there aren't automakers sitting on too many vehicles right now. Nissan was the brand with more models than any other automaker (five) on iSeeCars' list of 2019 model year vehicles with high excess inventory. The five Nissan vehicles are the Sentra, Maxima, Kicks, Armada, and Titan (the Infiniti QX80 also made the list). Dodge was next with three models (Journey, Challenger, and Grand Caravan) and there were two other FCA brands on the list: Chrysler (with the 300) and Alfa Romeo (with the Giulia). The data was current as of May 8.

"More significant deals may be found on . . . remaining 2019 inventory, so it's important that consumers examine their options for both model years and understand their negotiating power on 2019 vehicles," iSeeCars CEO Phong Ly said in a statement.

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