Auto buying picks up


By DENNIS SEID / NEMS Daily Journal

With less than three weeks left in 2010, automobile dealers expect to see a year-end sales push that will carry over into 2011 and beyond.

And they have some momentum.

U.S. sales in November were 17 percent higher than a year ago, the 11th time in the past 12 months that a month-over-month increase was recorded.

Granted, in 2009, auto sales hit a 28-year low, with about 10.6 million cars and trucks sold.

But heading into this month, 10.45 million vehicles had been sold. And experts think that sales this year could hit about 11.5 million.

Sporadic signs of an improving economy, a loosening of credit and higher consumer confidence have emboldened shoppers to visit showrooms.

“It seems things are picking up and improving,” said Larry Clark, owner of Larry Clark Chevrolet Buick Cadillac GMC in Amory. “I don’t have the exact numbers, but I’d say that we’ve seen a 20 to 25 percent increase in sales over last year.”

Clark also has a Ford dealership, where sales are even stronger, he said.

Overall, Ford Motor Co. saw its November sales rise 20 percent. GM’s total sales rose 12 percent, but its four surviving brands rose 21 percent. Chrysler, picking up momentum since its acquisition by Fiat, saw its sales increase 17 percent.

“We had Cash for Clunkers last year, but we also had a little letdown afterward,” Clark said. “But this year has been much better overall.”

Gary Cartwright, who owns Cartwright Ford in Booneville as well as Cartwright Imports, agrees that 2010 has been much better for auto dealers.

“We’re seeing consumer confidence is a little better, and we also have Ford putting out a great product,” he said.

Even though the recession put a severe dent in overall vehicle sales, dealers say trucks and sport utility vehicles continued to sell well.

“People love their trucks and SUVs,” Cartwright said. “If they want one, they’re going to get it.”

While nearly every major automaker reported increased sales in November, one notable exception was Toyota, which posted a 3 percent drop.

Its reputation battered by millions of recalls, the Japanese automaker has seen Ford retake its spot as the No. 2 automaker behind General Motors.

But Jim Nichols, the fleet manager and factory relations manager for Carlock Toyota in Tupelo, said sales at his dealership have been strong.

“Sales are up over last year,” he said. “We haven’t had any issues yet with recalled vehicles, and we also have some very loyal customers, too.”

It also helps that Toyota is cranking up activity at its plant in Blue Springs, which will build Corollas starting next fall.

“That’s been a big positive not just for us, but the whole area,” Nichols said.

It’s not just good will and good products that attract shoppers. Manufacturers are offering a variety of incentives, such as zero percent financing and cash back for qualified buyers.

And with 2011 models coming in, dealers are eager to move 2010 vehicles off their lots.

“The selection may not be there, but if you’re price-shopping you can get a good deal,” said Jessica Caldwell with the automotive website “You’ve got to look and do your research.”

Clark said his stock of 2010 model GM vehicles is dwindling, while his 2010 Ford inventory is all but gone.

“There are some really great incentives out there, including up to $6,500 back and zero percent financing, which is really attractive,” he said.

At Dossett Big 4 in Tupelo, Rudy Dossett III sold his fourth Cadillac Escalade SUV of the week on Thursday. The dealership carries Buick,

Cadillac, GMC and Honda.

“We’ve had a good year, a lot better than ’09,” he said. “We had a really good November and December is doing really well. I think it’s going to carry over into next year.”

Joe Marshall, co-owner of Barnes Crossing Hyundai-Mazda, happens to sell the hottest brand going in Hyundai. The South Korean automaker’s November sales jumped 46 percent.

“Mazda is doing all right, but used cars and Hyundai are really driving our sales,” Marshall said. “But I don’t think we’re taking market share locally. Instead, I think we’re giving people an option to shop here rather than going to Memphis or Birmingham.”

Industry analysts project sales next year to be 12 million to 12.5 million, growing to 15 million within a couple of years.

“We’re starting to feel better about how the market is going,” Caldwell told Autoweek. “It looks like we’re in that slow recovery pattern.”

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578

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