'Tis the Season for Car Bows

·2 min read
Photo credit: Roy Ritchie - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Roy Ritchie - Car and Driver

From the December 2021 issue of Car and Driver.

Depending on your eggnog consumption and personal feelings about the commercialization of the holidays, the image of a new car with a big red bow on it in the driveway is either heart­warming or horrific. Whatever your response, it's a holiday scene we've been seeing for more than 20 years, culturally important enough to inspire comedic parodies as well as multiple companies devoted to creating car-size ribbons. The car bow has transcended its beginnings as a Lexus marketing promotion to become an object almost as interesting as the car it's affixed to.

California King

Want a big bow for a big gift? Californian Lynda King did, and when she couldn't find one for sale, she made her own. That kick-started King Size Bows, a company she founded in 2000 and sold in 2015. Its new owners, mother and daughter Amber Hughes and Jan Kingaard, say their bestseller is the King of Big Red Bows, a 33-by-50-inch twisted loop with ribbon tails. The king will cost you $140; a smaller 30-by-41-inch bow is $50.


Bow Flex

• In 1999, Lexus was looking to improve lackluster winter sales numbers. Inspired by other holiday-specific commercial campaigns, it launched the "December to Remember" ads, in which family members in cozy Christmassy scenarios surprise one another with a brand-new car in the driveway, a bright red bow on its glossy roof. Maybe we're all suckers for holiday cheer, because it worked. By 2000, Lexus was selling more cars in December than any other month. The bows became prized among dealerships, with each allotted two per year at a pricey $400 a pop. According to Lexus's PR agency, the current bows have 17 loops.

• In 2011, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key teased their upcoming Key & Peele show with a car-bow sketch in which Peele gets Key just a bow, putting it on Key's own car. "What am I supposed to do with a car bow?" Key asks. It's a fair question. According to Hughes of King Size Bows, Key should hand it down to a friend for their own gifting surprise. "One client lived in a small town," she says, "and they kept passing it around."

Saturday Night Live parodied the commercials in 2020, pointing out that cars are maybe not the best surprise gift. "Did you seriously buy a car without asking me?" the wife asks in horror.

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