The model year of an automobile is a number used worldwide, but with a high level of prominence in North America, to describe approximately when an automobile was produced, and indicates the coinciding base specification of that product.

The model year and the actual calendar year of production do not always coincide. For example, a 2009 model year automobile is available during most of the 2009 calendar year, but is usually also available from the third quarter of 2008 because production of the 2009 model began in July and August 2008. When a brand new model is introduced there may be an additional delay to retool and retrain for production of the new model.

System by region[]

Alfred P. Sloan extended the idea of yearly fashion change from clothing to automobiles in the 1920s. His firm General Motors was the first to systematize the process of slightly altering cars every year to grab the buyers' attention.

The term may also be used by European and Japanese automakers in respect of model availability dates in North American markets: these often receive updated models significantly later than domestic markets, especially in the event of unforeseen slow sales causing an inventory build up of earlier versions.

The practice of identifying revisions of automobiles by their "model year" is strongest in the United States. Typically, complete vehicle redesigns of longstanding models occur in cycles of at least five years, with one or two "facelifts" during the model cycle, and are introduced at various times throughout the year. Additionally, introductions of new models are often phased in around the world, meaning that a "2004 model" of a particular vehicle may actually refer to two entirely different vehicles in different countries. Therefore, the more common practice for enthusiasts and motoring writers in other countries is to identify major revisions using the manufacturer's identifier for each revision. For instance, the Holden Commodore, a popular Australian car, are grouped into the following series: VB (introduced 1978), VC (1980), VH (1981), VK (1984), VL (1986), VN (1988), VP (1991), VR (1993), VS (1995), VT (1997), VX (2000), VY (2002), VZ (2004) and VE (2006). This is done for the simple reason of making the cars more easily distinguished.

Further information: Vehicle Identification Number#Model year encoding


In the automotive industry the "model year" is absolutely defined only by the manufacturer, and NOT any local vehicle registration practices, or media marketing opinions.

Industry practice varies between markets according both to the level of exports to North America, and the extent to which US owned subsidiaries dominate the domestic automarket. In the 1960s and 1970s, many new models were traditionally introduced at the London or Paris motor shows during October, and manufacturers owned by US corporations as well as domestically controlled UK auto makers tended to follow US auto-industry conventions in respect of model years. The concept was never so universally applied in Europe as in North America, however, and since the 1980s, the more commercially critical European Motor Shows have been the March Geneva Motor Show and the September Frankfurt Motor Show, new models have increasingly been launched in June or July even in the UK, where the two remaining US owned subsidiaries no longer design and build distinctively British Ford and Vauxhall models. All this has left the US style model year concept increasingly absent from the European domestic automarkets.

An automotive model year is categorically defined by the 10th digit of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), and simply indicates any manufacturer-specified evolution in mid-cycle of a model range - such as revised paint options, trim options or any other minor specification change. The 10th VIN digit does NOT relate to the calendar year which the car is built, although the two may coincide. To quote an example, on the Volkswagen Golf Mk5 (introduced late 2003), cars which were manufactured from July 2006 had a 7 as the 10th VIN digit, coinciding with minor trim revisions. The 7 continued until July 2007, when it was replaced with an 8.


In the United States, automobile model year sales traditionally begin with the fourth quarter of the preceding year. So model year refers to the "sales" model year; for example, vehicles sold during the period from October 1 to the next December 30 is considered one model year.[1] In addition, the launch of the new model year has long been coordinated to the launch of the traditional new television season (as defined by A.C. Nielsen) in late September, because of the heavy dependence between television to offer products from automakers to advertise, and the car companies to launch their new models at a high-profile time of year [2].

In other cases, products of a previous model year can continue production, especially if a newer model hasn't yet been released. In that case, the model year remains the same until a new model is introduced. This is to ensure that the model will be seen by the public, and will actually sell an amount of vehicles before a new vehicle model is produced, and people will look at the newer model rather than the previous one.

In the United States, for regulation purposes, government authorities allow cars of a given model year to be sold starting on January 2 of the previous calendar year.[3] This has resulted in a few cars in the next model year being introduced in advertisements during the NFL's Super Bowl.

See also[]

  1. Glossary of Climate Change Terms | Climate Change | U.S. EPA
  2. Carter, Bill (September 23, 2008). "A Television Season That Lasts All Year". The New York Times. Retrieved April 5, 2010. 
  3. For legal purposes, various definitions for "model year" are given in US federal laws, including 42 USC 7521(b)(3)(A), 26 USC 4064(b)(4), and 49 USC 32901(a)(15)