The Car of the Future… Yesterday

It’s confusing enough that 2004 model-year cars actually come out in the fall of 2003. But the latest trend in the auto industry is releasing next year’s vehicles even sooner. The New York Times reports that in August, 100 of the 370 cars and trucks that are labeled 2004 models had already reached the market (up from 75 a year ago). In other words, with a third of the year remaining, the 2003 cars were already last year’s models, because next year’s models had become this year’s models.

And you thought L.A. freeways were befuddling.

Although this tactic sounds as logical as coming out with a Christmas movie in July, an unusually early release gives automakers a new product to sell, one that doesn’t require a big marketing budget because the label “2004 model car” creates instant buzz. Also, it allows them to unveil a higher sticker price.

The strategy, however, is risky. If Elvis Costello was right on his classic “This Year’s Model” and no one gives a damn, automakers could be stuck with a 2004 bomb before 2004 actually arrives. Which I suppose would make December the perfect time to roll out a 2005 model.

Registration is required to access New York Times’ articles on the Web.