Local dealers help conspire in auto gifts

Surprise red bows, logistics at home garages among service

Cars at the Jim White Lexus dealership on Central Avenue sport the bows that the automaker supplies at Christmas time.
Cars at the Jim White Lexus dealership on Central Avenue sport the bows that the automaker supplies at Christmas time.

Holiday-themed ads are ubiquitous this time of year, especially for car makers looking to get an edge as they close out the year.

It appears little more than cute marketing, but dealers say giving a car for the holidays isn’t quite as far-fetched as it might seem.

“Oh, many, many times,” said Hal Whitmire, general manager at Jim White Lexus on Central Avenue in Sylvania Township.

Perhaps no brand has better owned the idea of buying one’s spouse a new sedan or sport utility than Lexus, with its annual “December to Remember” sale. The luxury automaker even supplies its dealers with big red bows to slap atop the cars.

“It’s been a very popular thing over the years,” Mr. Whitmire said. “Even today, we’ve had in the past couple weeks a few people come in looking to buy a Lexus as a Christmas gift for their spouse.”

The economic slowdown has tempered some of that enthusiasm, Mr. Whitmire said, but the promotion still helps drive traffic to the dealership.

Jason Perry, general manager at Vin Devers Autohaus in Sylvania, said the Audi and Mercedes dealership has sold a couple of cars this year to people intending to give them away.

Mr. Perry said one man surprised his wife with a new Mercedes by bringing her into the showroom. Normally, bows top all showroom cars this time of year. But when she walked in, there was a bow on only one car — hers.

In years past, the dealership has helped sneak vehicles into customers’ garages on Christmas Eve. It also arranged to have a car delivered to a restaurant so the valet brings around the new vehicle when the customer and spouse are ready to leave.

“It adds to the excitement of what we do,” Mr. Perry said. “It is exciting.”

It’s not limited to luxury cars. Joe Papalexis, sales manager at Yark Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, said his dealership sees a couple people every December who are looking to buy as a gift — mostly spouses buying for each other.

It does take a little discretion, though.

“You've just gotta make sure not to call the house and spoil the surprise,” he said.

Good stories aside, it’s difficult to know truly how many cars are sold as gifts every year.

Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends at online research firm TrueCar.com, knew of no one who tracks the figure. While he saw several sales during his days of running car dealerships, most of those weren’t true gifts in the sense that they were bought on a whim and blindsided the recipient.

“Almost always, they were cars the family or the couple were going to buy anyway,” Mr. Toprak said. “It was just sort of timed around holidays and presented as a holiday gift.”

Steve Taylor II, who runs the Taylor Automotive Family’s Kia and Hyundai dealerships, said buying cars as gifts for Christmas and other events such as birthdays may happen more than one would think. He does agree with Mr. Toprak, however, that many who do are already looking and decide to make a present out of the purchase, too.

“Some of them might have looked previously and decided, we’ll do it,” he said. “But I think it’s still a surprise.”

Gift or not, December is one of the best times to buy for many people. Dealers are working to clear out old inventory, and manufacturers often run significant promotions.

“You get to buy them at a very big discount while still having some choices out there.

By the time you get to January or February, the inventory of 2012s will be slim at the dealerships,” Mr. Toprak said.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.