Car Dealers See '90 Slump Going, '91 Sales Coming

February 06, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

The Cadillac drove smoothly, felt comfortable, and the price was reasonable.

But Barbara White, who came from Annapolis to Westminster with her son-in-law Tuesday to look at cars, wasn't ready to buy. She was ready to deal, though.

"We're just going around and comparing and trying to find the best deal," she said. "Today, you just have to shop around."

Westminster Motors was the third stop in her search to trade up from her 5-year-old Buick.

The auto industry is coming off one of its worst sales years in which many people looked, but didn't buy. Some county dealers, though, said they didn't suffer as much as the industry overalland that sales have been good in the first months of the new year.

Dug Dugger, general manager at Koons Toyota of Westminster, said heis expecting sales to be steady for the first six months of the yearand then swing up.

Baby boomers, many of whom bought cars in a sales surge from 1985 to 1987, will be ready to trade their cars in toward the end of 1991, Dugger said.

If the economy rebounds by then, those liberal-spending baby boomers also may be ready to invest in a third car -- "a fun car" to drive on the weekends, he said.

Koons, which opened in July 1989, surpassed its sales goals for 1990, he said. The dealership also sells Mazdas.

Last year, it sold 590 Toyota cars and trucks, 239 Mazda cars and trucks, and 278 used cars and trucks, Dugger said.

Nationwide, Toyota sales were up 63.6 percent, while American companies saw declines ranging from 4.5 percent for General Motors to 13.6 percent for Chrysler.

Honda sales were up 18.8 percent in the United States and 10 percent at Griffith Auto Parkin Westminster.

"Hondas are our biggest sellers," said General Manager Vince Iadevaia.

He sold 12 more Hondas last month than he did in January of last year, he said. Griffith also sells Dodge and Lincoln-Mercury.

The war in the gulf has slowed the flow of people through the showroom door, but those who have come in are likely to be serious about buying, Iadevaia said.

Chrysler sales at Griffith were down almost 20 percent in 1990 from the previous year. Lincoln-Mercury sales were down 45 percent, but picked up in December and January, he said. Used car sales were up 25 percent.

John Hammond, sales manager at Jeff Barnes Chevrolet Oldsmobile in Eldersburg, said sales were down 10 percent to 15 percent in 1990.

Car sales used to follow a pattern each year with a surge in the fall when new models are released, a sluggish period through the winter and a strong showingthrough the spring and summer, said Hammond, a car salesman for 19 years.

Sales are less predictable now, and dealers rely more on referrals and repeat business, he said. If a dealer sells a car to one satisfied customer, that customer will send three more the dealer's way, he said. Salesmen work for that business by making follow-up phonecalls and sending birthday cards.

At Cox Ford in Hampstead, SalesManager Richard B. Henry said sales were up 6 percent to 7 percent in 1990 over 1989. The dealership has been open for five years, and sales have increased every year, he said.

Barry Stoler, owner of Stoler Nissan and Jeep/Eagle in Westminster, said sales were "off a little" in 1990, but so far this year have been good.

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