Americans Buy Cars In May, Not January

Completed because of a request from The Good Car Girl, the embedded spreadsheet you see here was meant to look at seasonal changes in the U.S. automotive marketplace. You, however, can look at it with whatever questions you may have and find answers. Monthly sales data (supplied by Automotive News Data Center) can be found for every month over the last ten years. Beyond that, The Good Car Guy has allowed Google Docs formulas to go to work on averages.

As you’ll see, January is never a good month for selling cars, but you guessed that already. Of greater importance to new car dealerships, May is the best month for selling vehicles. In fact, in three of the last ten years May was the top-selling month. Only in 2008 was January not the lowest volume month, but that January was worse than any of the previous 84 months on the chart. Clearly the middle months of the year are better times to sell cars, but December is moderately decent, despite the Christmas shopping at Apple stores and Target.

The best month in the last decade? It wasn’t Cash For Clunkers. July 2005 was rockin’. January 2009, on the other hand, was the lowest volume month of the decade. Sales had been spiralling downward, then recovered slightly in December 2008, then plummeted nearly 238,000 units in the first month of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Januarys, on average, feature about 250,000 fewer sales than the average month. The months of May are almost 160,000 sales better than the average month. It’s interesting to look back and see some anomalies which, only at first, seem unexplainable. Remember October 2001? After 9/11, incentives on new vehicles skyrocketed. So did sales. August 2009 presented the aforementioned Cash For Clunkers spike. In September 2008, economic crisis laid hold on the United States like that concussion has Sidney Crosby right now. Every automaker posted a decrease in sales compared with September 2007; Audi fared best with a 5.4% drop. As far as 2010’s recovery, it sure wasn’t as historically significant as we wish it was. December, 2010’s best month, was the eighth-best December of the decade. Average monthly sales in 2010 were 96,589 up on 2008’s average but the 12-month average monthly output was 305,723 units below the average month of the decade.

It’s not all doom and gloom. January 2011 was up 17% over 2009’s January and up 25% over January 2008.

Related From
U.S. New Vehicle Market Size: 2001 – 2010
U.S. New Vehicle Market Share By Brand – January 2011
2010 Year End U.S. Auto Sales Charts & Best Sellers