• Local car sales reveal a hilly road
     | July 29,2013

    Local car and truck sales this summer show some brands selling better than others.

    Domestic car sales are up and light truck sales are surging but some imports are doing less well and sales of hybrids and electric vehicles are not a significant factor.

    The Vermont Auto Outlook report, provided by the Vermont Automobile Dealers Association, which tracks vehicle sales statewide with data through June shows that for May and June all new vehicles sold were up 4.7 percent from 2012. However, new car sales were actually down 2.6 percent for that period while light truck sales were up 11.2 percent.

    The Big Three Detroit car manufacturers, Ford, GM and Chrysler, were up 7.7 percent, European cars were up .9 percent, Japanese cars grew 6 percent while Korean cars dropped 15.5 percent in sales over the same period a year ago.

    The brand with the largest growth in registrations in the state in June was the Dodge Ram truck up 30 percent. Dodge vehicle sales were up 23 percent, Buick was up 22 percent and BMW was up 15 percent. Chevrolet saw a 1 percent sales decline while Jeep sales were off 8 percent and Kia dropped by 28 percent in sales. Hybrid and electric vehicles continue to garner less than 5 percent of the market.

    Marilyn Miller at VADA categorized the current sales climate as “an interesting market.”

    She said sales growth was due to increased credit availability. She was pleased that “the domestic auto makers are showing an increase in enthusiasm. People are paying attention to fuel economy, engine size and performance.”

    A survey of local dealers shows a wide variety of views on this summer’s sales performance.

    Mike Gosselin at Cody Chevrolet categorized sales this summer as “very good, excellent.” He said sales are better than last year and he estimated his figures were up “by 15 (percent) to 20 percent.”

    At Cody half-ton truck sales are “our bread and butter,” said Gosselin, but cars were also selling better than last year. He said gas mileage is still important for those considering a purchase and he sees some buyers “trading trucks for cars or better gas mileage cars.”

    In the used vehicle department used truck sales were “solid.” The growth in sales, said Gosselin, was due to consumers feeling better about the economy and their job security.

    Jack Castellaneta at Formula Nissan and Formula Ford was less enthusiastic about sales this summer. He said the sales season was, “OK, not great,” in both his stores. He does not feel the growth in the economy had caught up with Vermont. He was concerned that his dealership was losing sales to out-of-state dealers in New Hampshire and the Boston area. What was not selling at the Nissan store was big trucks. However, on the Ford side of business the F150 truck was the best seller. Also the Ford Escape crossover, followed by the Focus and Fusion, were doing well in sales.

    Town and Country Honda sales manager Eric Bashaw said, “We’re having a very good summer and are ahead of last year.” He attributed the growth to “changes in advertising with more aggressive use of the Internet.”

    John Henning at Twin City Subaru was upbeat as sales were “very, very brisk.” He said his sales team “set store records in May and June,” with more than 100 vehicles sold each month.

    This is an improvement over 2012. “The market is jelling and we can tell from our Internet traffic.“ Buyers, said Henning, are replacing vehicles that they kept longer than normal due to the economy, and with a stabilized economic outlook sales are up.

    ”The rate of people replacing their cars is in fast forward right now,” said Henning.

    Sales were not as expected at Capitol City Auto mart, where Kia sales were “a little slow,” according to sales manager Doug Rice. Kia sales generally grow when gas prices surge but gas prices until recently had been dropping or stable, hurting Kia sales. “We get a spike in business when gas goes up,” he said. Sales here were on par with last year.

    Sales are “pretty good,” according to Mitchell Jay at Midstate Dodge and Hyundai. However, sales growth was not quite as strong as last year. The Hyundai brand was up 2 percent nationally and sales here are flat. Jay said he is competing with domestic brands offering rebates of $2,000 to $3,500 on cars.

    His Dodge brand saw sales growth rising in double digits, which he attributes to rebates, offered by Dodge.

    The trends at Midstate include selling more cars while large pickup sales are flat. Jay sees “an uptick in small vehicles, however gas mileage is not a primary issue like it was last year and earlier.” What he does not see is “much demand for hybrids,” which he attributes to their higher initial cost.

    Mark Provost at Walker Mazda Volkswagen reports sales that are “very strong,” and “a little bit better than last year.” He categorized this summer as “a strong car sales season.”

    Provost said his customers are fuel efficiency conscious and his Volkswagen line with diesel engines are strong sellers, getting 43 mpg as a medium-sized vehicle.

    “We’re up 21 percent for the full year and May through July have been very good, pacing a strong — possibly record — July,” said Dave Birmingham, who owns both Twin City Subaru and 802 Toyota Scion. He said after the down years following 2008 “It’s nice to be getting back to the normal state of business.”

    If there are sales trends one is the way sales follow prices at the pump. With a predicted rise in gas prices he expects to see growth in sales of the hybrid Prius. He is also surprised at the strong truck sales.

    Birmingham categorized this year as “a buyer’s market” with pent up demand, the oldest fleet of cars on the road for 25 years, and a shortage of supply due to problems delivering Japanese brands. He also sees the fewest used cars on the market in 15 years, and low interest rates. This provides, he said, “a lot of competition for the consumer.”

    Miller at VADA said the generally good sales climate is an indication that “the economy is improving somewhat and central Vermonters are feeling more confident so they will go out and invest in a new vehicle.”

    As in any economic downturn — and the recent recession was a particularly difficult time — Miller said people hold their cars a long time and now “there has been a rebound.”


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