When Do New Cars Come Out?

when do cars roll out jpg illustration by Paul Dolan/alma_sacra/Adobe Stock

The introduction of new and updated vehicles used to be an annual fall ritual, when manufacturers would unveil their new hardware en masse around Oct. 1.

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That hasn’t been the case for many years, though, and these days, new models can arrive any time during the calendar year. What used to be largely packed into a few weeks in the fall now stretches from January into December, and several good reasons exist for that.

  • All-new or redesigned vehicles become ready for sale at different times of the year, and if that happens to be late spring, there is no sense in waiting for the fall to put them into showrooms.
  • Manufacturers discovered years ago that if all their new and updated vehicles went on sale around Oct. 1, formerly the traditional start of the new model year, some important new or redesigned cars, or changes to existing models, could get lost in the shuffle. 
  • Moreover, if every manufacturer rolled out their new hardware around the same time, then every company would have a tough time cutting through the clutter. Many car buyers want the newest vehicles and features, but they might not hear about them if an industrywide stampede came every fall. 

Now, many vehicles coming out in the fall are “carryover” models from the previous year, often with few significant changes.

The industry also likes to spread out new-model introductions so automakers and dealers can focus marketing and merchandising efforts on the freshest products individually, thus generating maximum interest among potential buyers.

For example, January or February might be a good time to introduce a new or redesigned SUV: It’s the right time of year to show an all-wheel-drive utility vehicle dashing through the snow in commercials, and there should be plenty of eyeballs watching football playoffs on television around then. But if that SUV were ready during the summer, the schedule and the marketing focus would change.

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Federal regulations allow manufacturers to sell vehicles for a given model year as early as January of the prior calendar year. That means that  shortly after the ball drops to signal New Year’s Day 2021, manufacturers can start selling 2022 models.

Though new models seldom debut on New Year’s Day, car companies frequently get an early start on the next model year by introducing new or updated cars months before the calendar changes — rolling out a 2021 model in March 2020, for example. 

Shoppers attracted to a vehicle from the upcoming model year because it’s the latest and greatest also may enjoy some financial benefit. The newest models tend to have higher resale and residual values, the latter used to calculate lease prices down the road. Higher residual values generally translates to lower lease rates for consumers.

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