DETROIT — If you’re in the market for a Japanese car, March is a good time to buy.
Unlike U.S., European and Korean automakers, which end their financial year on Dec. 31, Japanese companies such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. close their books on March 31. In order to hit their annual sales targets, Japanese automakers usually ramp up the promotions and deals in March.
Honda’s “Dream Garage” ads are currently running between college basketball games. Lexus will make your first month’s lease payment. Nissan is promising bonus cash. Subaru’s “Love Spring” sale promises zero-percent financing on Impreza and Legacy sedans. Toyota is offering $1,000 cash on a 2016 Corolla.
“March tends to be a strong sales month for the auto industry, but is particularly strong for the Japanese makes as shoppers flock to these sales,” says Jeremy Acevedo, an analyst with the car buying site Edmunds.com.
Among the current deals:
— The 2016 Toyota Camry SE is currently selling for as much as 11 percent off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP, according to car buying site TrueCar.com. That’s a savings of $2,885. Deals for the Camry include $500 cash plus zero-percent financing for up to 60 months.
— Honda is offering the 2016 Civic compact car for $179 per month with a 36-month lease. In February, Honda was offering the Civic for the same monthly price but for a longer term of 39 months. That’s a difference of $537.
— Subaru will lease you a 2016 Outback SUV for $269 a month for 36 months. In February, a 36-month lease was $289 per month. That’s a savings of $720 over three years.
Japanese automakers spend an average of $1,592 on incentives per vehicle in March, says auto analyst and industry consultant Jesse Toprak, who bases his numbers on data from 2012 to the present. They spend a little more in August and September, when the model year ends and they want to clear the way for new models. But Toprak says there are fewer vehicles available then, so buyers are better off shopping in March.
“March results in the best combination of very high incentives and plenty of vehicles to choose from for the consumers,” Toprak said.
Buyers also should watch for other car companies mimicking the Japanese brands to stay competitive. TrueCar says Hyundai is offering savings of up to $4,000 off the retail price of the 2016 Sonata — a midsize competitor to the Toyota Camry. Chevrolet is offering $1,500 cash to buyers of a 2016 Malibu, another Camry competitor.
Japanese automakers tend to spend less than their Detroit rivals on incentives, partly because they sell fewer pricey trucks. Incentives can also cheapen a brand’s image and lower vehicles’ resale value.
Still, incentives help automakers compete, especially if they have older models that are in danger of being eclipsed by newer rivals. And they can pad sales totals in a competitive marketplace. Toyota was the world’s largest automaker last year, beating Volkswagen AG by around 220,000 vehicles.
TrueCar hasn’t yet issued its sales forecast for this month, which includes incentive spending per automaker.
But last March, TrueCar said, buyers paid less than they did in January or February for many popular Japanese vehicles, including the Toyota Camry, Toyota RAV4, Honda Civic, Honda CR-V. Several Nissan vehicles, including the Rogue, Pathfinder and Armada SUVs and the Frontier pickup, were cheaper in March than in any other month of the year.
Deals vary by model. Buyers shopping for cars, for example, are more likely to find bigger incentives than buyers shopping for SUVs. Low gas prices have helped make SUVs more appealing to consumers, so automakers are struggling to sell cars. Nissan is offering zero-percent financing for 72 months plus $250 cash on its Sentra small car, for example, but is only offering zero-percent financing for 60 months on its Rogue small SUV.
Deals may also vary by region or even by shopper. Nissan is offering $500 cash this month to owners of competing vehicles who buy or lease an Altima sedan or a Rogue SUV. Members of the military, first-time buyers or recent college graduates may get special deals. Dealers can also add extra cash or perks, such as free car washes.