Don't be misled. The automotive market did not experience a sudden recovery in September; and with a few exceptions, like trucks, October wasn't all that much better.
The news merely looked good on paper because automakers traditionally compare current sales to sales figures from one year before -- and September 2009 was the first month of the Cash fo Clunkers hangover, when no one bought a car. It isn't hard to look good next to that.
Still, though dealerships know they aren't doing well, we are seeing fewer formal discount programs with each passing month. Transaction prices are on the rise, as automakers have learned to better manage their inventory. As we head into the traditionally-slow winter months, we can't expect to see many heavy incentives. Just a lot of slow sales.
Still, there are deals to be found. You have to look around for them, but a handful of very attractive, fun-to-own cars are available now with discounts that will help you afford them...if you know where to look.
2010 Mazda3 -- 0% APR financing for 60 months, PLUS $500 cash back rebate
The Mazda3 is one of our favorite small cars. It's fun to drive -- it gets a lot of thrust from its four little cylinders, and handles like nothing else its size except for, of course, the Mini Cooper. It's also quite pleasant inside -- as close to upscale as a car available under $16k can be. But Mazda has simply built too many of the things. This month, they're available with a low interest rate AND a cash-back rebate. It's a great time to steal one while everyone's attention is focused on the Chevy Cruze and the Ford Fiesta.
2010 Ford Fusion Sport AWD
2010 Ford Fusion -- 0% APR financing for 60 months PLUS $500 cash back rebate, or a $2,500 cash back rebate
When the American auto industry was depressed, with GM and Chrysler facing bankruptcy and seemingly little to crow about, the 2010 Ford Fusion was the car that proved America could compete with the imports. Who would settle for a milquetoast Camry when the Fusion, with its taut handling, was an option? Who would settle for a boring-looking Accord with a sub-par soundsystem when the sharp-looking Fusion, with its massive chrome grille and surprisingly good sound in a base stereo, was available? Who would buy anything else once they tasted SYNC? It's still one of the best midsize cars on the market -- and this month, it's cheap.
2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
2010 Jeep Wrangler -- 0% APR financing for 36 months PLUS a $1,000 cash back rebate
The Wrangler is an icon. It's what everyone calls to mind when you say "Jeep," and it deserves the honor -- few vehicles ever built can hold their own against it off the beaten path, or in pure fun-factor. Seriously, when you imagine yourself on that trip to Maui, do you picture driving anything else? That alone shows you what this car represents...and now it's available at a significant discount thanks to an unusual combination of low-rate financing AND a cash-back rebate.
2010 Ford Flex
2010 Ford Flex -- 0% APR financing for 60 months or a $3,000 cash back rebate
We love the Ford Flex, but we're pretty sure its days are numbered. The arrival of the heavily-hyped 2011 Ford Explorer means that Ford now offers three crossovers running on roughly the same gear (count the Edge in, too), and this has been the slow seller of the group. It shouldn't be, though. With everything from standard SYNC to a build-in fridge, it's just about the most versatile ride their ease. It offers smooth driving dynamics and retro-cool looks like nothing else on the road. Let's hope Ford hangs on to it -- and whatever they decide, let's hope a lot of people grab this cheap deal while it's available.
2010 Mazda CX-9
2010 Mazda CX-9 -- 0% APR financing for 60 months
A full-size SUV doesn't have to be a gas-guzzling, looks-like-1997-drives-like-a-panel-van nightmare to own. It can be sharply-styled, fuel-efficient and actually fun-to-drive if you consider the Mazda CX-9. It'll never tow like an Expedition or haul like a Yukon, but it will be a heck of a lot better place for a family to spend time. And, this month, it'll be offered interest-free, saving you thousands over the life of the car.
2010 Corvette Grand Sport
2010 Chevrolet Corvette -- 0% APR financing for 72 months or a $5,000 cash back rebate
We tried not to write about this offer, mostly because we're sick of posting it month-after-month. But, in the end, we couldn't. It's just too good to pass up. Every 'Vette, even the asphalt-rippling , 638-horsepower ZR1, is available at a monster discount. There is no car more iconic, no car more lustworthy, no car more American -- and you won't see them this cheap for long.