Two months ago, if you were looking for signs of just how bad things were for the automotive sector, all you had to do was wander over to the internet and marvel at the deals on offer.
Half a dozen makes, including Detroit’s Big Three, were advertising an unprecedented interest-free financing over seven years. These deals weren’t just for commuter crates, but for Corvettes and Mustangs. Brisk-selling pickups had rarely needed much of a pickup, but there were Ram Trucks and even Ford F-150s (America’s bestselling truck since 1981) available on no-interest terms. As recently as February, 0% financing was a relative rarity, accounting for only 3.6% of financed purchases according to Edmunds. But come April, those sweetheart deals accounted for over a quarter of all purchases. One dealer in Santa Monica, Calif., was even offering the Maserati Ghibli—an $83,000 dream with a Ferrari-built V6—at 0% for 84 months.
It was the Maserati deal (or was it the Land Rover or Jaguar deals?) that finally turned the head of Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director for insights. “The incentives felt desperate,” she said, looking back at the whole thing. “It felt like automakers were trying to hang on to anything. And I thought, This is where we’re at right now.”
Indeed, where the auto industry was at in April was a nadir that rivaled the Great Recession, or any other recession. With a year-over-year sales plummet of 53%, the automotive industry was having what Edmunds announced as “the worst auto sales month in at least 30 years.”
In view of that mess, you might think that the July Fourth weekend would also see auto brands scrambling to make up for the losses, ordering their marketing departments to gin up the messaging in a breathless bid to lure buyers back, lest the bottom drop out of the showroom floor forever. But while the coming holiday weekend will certainly see its share of deals, Independence Day isn’t shaping up to be the marketing blitz one might expect. In fact, several major brands have nothing in the works for the Fourth of July at all.
“We’re not planning a national campaign,” said Scott Vazin, group vp and chief communications officer at Toyota Motor North America. “We’ll still be running our hybrid and Supra offers, but that’s about it.”
“We don’t have any confirmed July Fourth promotions,” seconded Subaru of America’s corporate communications manager Diane Anton.
“There is nothing new planned in terms of advertising around the Fourth,” said Volkswagen of America’s product communications specialist William Gock. “But our current offers and incentives will be extended to July 6.”
Jaguar Land Rover, which had initially planned to kick off a “sales event” for the Fourth of July, decided last week to bump the effort until later in the summer instead.
For its part, General Motors would say only that it’s playing its July Fourth plans “very close to the vest” and preferred not to comment. Ford Motor did not respond to Adweek’s requests for comment.
Which is not to say no automotive brands will be doing any marketing this weekend—Jeep and Hyundai are still at work on special promotions—but it’s clear that this Independence Day’s pyrotechnics won’t include a lot of flash and bang from automotive brands. And why not? Quite a few reasons, actually.
Things are bad—but not awful
For one thing, the automotive sector isn’t praying for a July Fourth rebound because the rebound actually started several weeks ago. While April car sales were admittedly a disaster, the following month began to see consumers trickling back. The month of May benefitted from an extra weekend, and many customers used it to take advantage of the eye-popping offers many brands had already been advertising.