A car under the tree?

Well, the holidays are officially now past (unless the Super Bowl is considered a holiday) and I observed something this year. I seemed that, on those rare occasions when I did have the TV tuned to a broadcast station, there was an extraordinary amount of advertising that advised people that the best possible holiday gift they could buy would be a new car or truck.

Considering the state of the economy (slowly improving), the cost of getting a tree big enough to fit a car under it or conversely, the cost of getting a huge bow for the top of the car, I just wonder what these companies are collectively smoking.

In our family, at least, we purchase a car only once every 10 or 12 years after we have paid off and driven the current car into the ground. If I bought into these ads, I’d view buying a new car as no more of a deal than getting a new toaster or maybe some jewelry. And just to be very specific, many of the cars that were being pushed as gifts, cost more than my first house.

The message was always pretty much the same. Images of people zooming through a winter wonderland, snugly belted into gleaming vehicles that didn’t show a speck of road salt, snow, rain, or even dirt.

Is that a new feature I missed? Self-cleaning cars that always look new?

Obviously they didn’t shoot these commercials in the Albany area where a quick trip out after a snowstorm can leave most cars looking like they just drove through the Dead Sea followed by a mud bath followed by rust setting in.

But to get back to my initial question, how can these companies suggest with a straight face, that most people can, or should, buy a $30,000 to $80,000 car as a holiday gift? Do most families have large piles of cash lying about so they could just buy such a vehicle outright? Is long-term debt considered a great secondary feature? The gift that keeps on taking? Or are these companies appealing to a “different class” of people than most of us belong to?

I do wonder about such things. I also wonder about the implied importance of an expensive vehicle in one’s value system.

In one of these commercials, a family was gathered around the front of their brand new vehicle and the father moved his young school-age son out of the way so he wouldn’t block the car’s logo in what was obviously the family holiday-card photo.

If you’re wondering, this was a commercial for an expensive foreign car brand. The vehicle in question would likely cost the same as the son’s first year or two at a private college.

So what message was the company sending there? “Screw your kids, you need this SUV to complete your life!” Or maybe something like, ”He’ll thank you some day for teaching him about disappointment early in life.”

Yeah, that’s got to be it. Sorry kids, you don’t get to go to college but think of how great it was riding around in all that heated leather!

I found a lot of the car-for-holiday-gift ads to be pretty awful from a values standpoint. But then again, high levels of debt have never really been an accepted family value in our home.

So, in the future, when it does finally come time to buy a car, I’ll be avoiding certain foreign car companies (and a few domestic ones too) because I just don’t think we share the same values. I get that companies all need to make a profit to survive, but, when that mission overrides common sense, smart financial decisions, and true family values, then I’m hopping off that greed train.

And, if you are one of that tiny group that did get a new vehicle for the holidays, then I suppose congrats are in order. But you have to tell us all, did you have to renovate your house to make enough room to get a 60-foot tall tree in and then install a garage door as a front door, too, so you could get your new gift in and out? How’s that working out for you now?

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he believes in buying holiday gifts based on common sense and a sane budget and not on what the Fortune 500 would have you do.