Some online auto retailers appear ready to benefit from 2023's holiday auto sales.

For decades, automakers and dealers have made holiday auto sales one of the hallmarks of the holiday shopping season. Slogans such as “Make it a December to remember,” “Enjoy the ride this holiday season” and “Drive home for the holidays” have become part of the seasonal lexicon. But do all the ad dollars the industry spends during these promotions—not to mention deep discounts—really drive sales, especially online, from Thanksgiving to the New Year?

Some early numbers from the holiday auto sales period are already available. They indicate this season could bookend a year of improved sales, even if some results are mixed.

Projected 2023 auto sales

In 2023, total new car sales are projected to post a year-over-year increase of more than 10%. That would be the highest increase since 2019, according to Cox Automotive Inc. Cox operates, an online marketplace for auto buyers and sellers. For used vehicles, about 35.9 million units are expected to be sold for the year. That would be fewer than the 36.3 million used autos sold in 2022, the company shared.

Online sales, meanwhile, have been on track to claim a larger share of the auto sales market. By 2025, online auto sales in the United States are expected to represent 18% of total auto sales, up from 9.7% in 2020, according to the consultancy Roland Berger LP.

Compared with 2022, early returns for the 2023 holiday shopping season indicate that online auto sales are on the rise. reports that between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday it saw a 6.4% week-over-week rise in new car searches. That was accompanied by a 4% increase in used car searches for the same period. is operated by Cars Commerce, Inc. The provider of automotive marketplace technology claims to attract about 26 million visitors a month.


“Historically, we’ve seen an increase in engagement with automaker ad campaigns on during sales events and a significant uptick in dealer leads, as in-market shoppers are motivated to find out more about deals on available vehicles,” says Rebecca Lindland, senior director of Industry Data and Insights for Cars Commerce. “Additionally, that uptick in searches on points to active shoppers during the holiday season when many of these ad campaigns and sales events occur.”

Signals in used car sales

Sales of used cars also got off to a strong start in November. Cox Automotive says it saw a surge in auto sales on beginning the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

“Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving was one of our top five highest volume days for cars sold ever measured by sales contracts signed,” says Paulo da Silva, assistant vice president of operations for Cox Automotive Ecommerce. “On Black Friday we saw another top five highest volume day for cars sold ever.”

Cox Automotive also saw one of its three best days ever on Black Friday for funnel activity. “That strong funnel activity the week of Black Friday translated into November being the best month ever in terms of cars sold through our ecommerce platform,” da Silva adds.


The spike in volume on heading into Thanksgiving and on Black Friday is a sign that consumers are making greater use of the online channel when purchasing a car, a Cox Automotive spokesperson adds.

Why it could be a December to remember

As the calendar flipped to December, early data indicates that consumers continue to spend on auto purchases. Interest can be seen in search activity. saw that the first 11 days of the month were 5% busier than the first 11 days of November. That lift reflects typical seasonal buying patterns, Lindland says. One factor helping the surge in auto sales during December is that car companies are upping the ante when it comes to incentives. These are meant to encourage consumers to pull the trigger on purchasing an automobile, she adds.

Those boosted incentives have come as inflation led to higher prices and interest rates, including for auto loans, Lindland notes. “Some economic headwinds exist for consumers, but automakers are increasing incentives to entice shoppers with better finance terms and help offset high prices,” Lindland says.

With used car sales for 2023 projected to be slightly lower than in 2022, Lindland does not expect a year spike in the category. “December is a soft month for used vehicles as those would-be shoppers tend to allocate their wallet to holiday-related expenses, deferring vehicle purchases until they get their tax return.”


Expectations based on previous years

In average years, auto sales have risen in December relative to previous months, according to The digital marketplace connects buyers and sellers to a nationwide network of auto dealers. says it does not have “mature data” yet for the 2023 holiday shopping season. Nevertheless, historical data confirms that trend. In December 2022, sales of new cars on the platform accounted for 7.8% of sales for the month. That was up from 6.9% in November the same year.

“Monthly seasonal sales [in 2020 and 2021] were abnormal due to COVID/inventory shortages, but this year has been a little more stable, comparable to the 2015-2019 average,” says a spokesperson.

From 2015-2019 new car sales on the platform averaged 9.2% for December, the company adds.

The uptick in sales during December coincides with an increase in incentive spending by automakers during the month. In 2022, automakers increased their incentive spending by 23.7 %, according to data. The surge in incentive spending in 2022 followed a 4.6% decline in incentive spending in 2021. Incentive spending increased 4% in 2020 and 2019, respectively.


Are holiday promotions effective?

New car sales tend to be strong throughout December. Within the month, one of the most active periods for used cars is between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, according to “It’s what many in the industry call the 13th month,” a spokesperson says. Vroom will not report sales for the fourth quarter of 2023 until early next year.

On the used car front, online used car retailer Carvana Co. does not traditionally see December promotions move the needle. “Where we see a real increase in sales is around tax season when consumers use their tax returns to purchase a car,” says a Carvana spokesperson.

Sales data from supports that trend. In 2022, used car sales on the platform accounted for 9.3% of sales in May. That was up from 9.1% in April. Used car sales as a percentage of sales dipped to 8.4% in June and 8.1% in July.

Challenging factors

While holiday auto sales look strong for 2023, the forecast for 2024 is that sales will slow slightly. That is due to high interest rates for auto loans, depleted inventory and fewer incentives from automakers, says Cox Automotive chief economist Jonathan Smoke.


“2023 has been strong and consistent for new vehicle sales and have been supported by improving supply levels and higher incentives,” Smoke said in Cox Automotive’s bi-weekly auto market report posted December 19. “But, for both the economy and auto sales, expect slow growth in the year ahead. One percent to two percent growth is about all we can expect, but it beats the alternative.”

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