US retailers faced competition for customers from car sellers on Thanksgiving weekend, as auto dealers offered bargains on vehicles as alluring as any discounted TV or stereo system.
The mad dash for midnight "Black Friday" deals at stores like Walmart and Target the day after Thanksgiving has become an annual ritual. Less noticed are the crowds flocking to car dealers.
November has long been a notoriously slow month for car sales. But in recent years car dealers have joined in the Thanksgiving weekend sales extravaganza, making November one of the best months of the year for auto sales in recent years, said Jessica Caldwell, director of industry analysis for Edmunds.com.
"Last year, Thanksgiving weekend accounted for twice as many sales as any other weekend in November. We expect to see both trends continue this year," Caldwell said in a pre-weekend note to investors.
- Autos and Xboxes -
The activity Friday in a cluster of new car dealerships near a busy intersection just outside Detroit confirmed the trend.
"It's going to be one of the busiest days of the year," said Melvin Holmes, a sales consultant at Tamaroff Honda, one of the dealerships.
National advertising by Honda and special promotions by the dealership -- everyone buying a car Friday or Saturday will get a tablet computer, an Xbox or Wii game system, or a 350-dollar gift card -- were helping draw crowds, Holmes said.
At Serra Chevrolet a few doors away, customers were prowling through the used car lot despite the light rain.
"We're already busy," said Chaz Suomala, one of Serra's sales consultants. "It was crazy last year" he said.
"We just thought it would be a good day to come out and start the process," said Lana Crain, who was waiting with her husband to take a test drive at another dealership selling Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles.
Customers often go online to research what car they want to buy, and with what options.
Brian Brewer, a car dealer, said that the day after Thanksgiving had now become a popular time to check out a desired set of wheels at closer quarters.
- Buyers 'expect' bargains -
Honda, Toyota, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Chevrolet, Ford and FCA US (formerly the Chrysler Group) all run special promotions for Black Friday -- with deals often extending to Sunday -- and the Christmas holidays.
Motorists have come to expect the holiday promotions, said Toyota spokesman Greg Thome.
Eric Lyman with TrueCar.com, a vehicle pricing and information website for buyers and dealers, said that Black Friday sales could help set a record and push the seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) for light vehicle sales in November to 18.6 million units, the strongest pace of any month this year.
"This continues to be a standout year for the industry, with November sales likely setting a monthly record," Lyman said.
"Consumers are excited about Black Friday promotions and these month-long events appear to be resonating with car buyers."
Overall US vehicle sales have been rising steadily since sinking to a monthly low of 9.95 million units in June 2009, a figure not seen since the 1980s, according to US Commerce Department figures.
In the past five years car sales have consistently peaked in November and December, going from 12.03 million in December 2010 to 17.22 million in December 2014.
Figures for November sales were slightly higher than December in 2013 and 2014, at 16.48 million and 17.44 million respectively.