U.S. car-buying spree stalls in Maryland

December 24, 1992|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

Although economists say the recession has ended, Maryland motorists are still holding on to their money.

Consumers across the nation celebrated the election of Bill Clinton with a spending spree that boosted sales of new cars 17 percent last month, compared with November 1991. But this wave of consumer confidence seemed to bypass Maryland, according to figures released yesterday by the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

Maryland dealers sold 284 fewer cars last month than they did in November 1991, which wasn't a particularly good month. State figures are based on title registrations, which closely correspond to new vehicle sales.

The reason for poor business at new car showrooms: a lack of consumer confidence, say dealers and a University of Baltimore economist.

Consumers in the mid-Atlantic region seem to be recovering their confidence more slowly that those in Middle America, says Alan Abramson, head of a Ford dealership on Reisterstown Road.

At his dealership, Mr. Abramson said, "November got off to a disappointingly slow start, then got worse."

He recalled reading in the newspaper about a mini sales boom throughout the country and saying to himself: "Where's that happening? It's not happening here."

The mid-October announcement by Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s local division that it would lay off 1,400 workers by year's end troubled some potential car buyers, Mr. Abramson says. "I think that hurt a lot."

Talk about a potential closing of the General Motors Corp. van assembly plant at Broening Highway also hurt, he said. "Even though it eluded the recent cuts, there is still concern [a plant closing] could happen considering GM's problems."

Thomas Peedin, sales manager at Major Motors Nissan in Ellicott City, agrees.

October, he said, was "not a bad month. "I thought to myself, 'Wait until after the election, people will really be in a buying mood.' But that didn't happen.

"I think it was because too many people were picking up the papers and reading about layoffs. I think the conservative person has decided to wait and see [what happens with the local economy] even though his car needs to be replaced."

A lot of question marks still hang over Maryland's economy, says Michael A. Conte, a senior fellow in regional economic studies at the University of Baltimore.

He, too, mentioned the potential shutdown of the GM plant, along with layoffs by IBM, USF&G, Esskay and Westinghouse. Still, state consumers are more optimistic now than in the past, he said.

MVA data show that dealers sold 19,324 new vehicles last month.

This compares with sales of 19,608 units in November 1991.

Used-car sales also slumped. State figures show dealers sold 33,982 vehicles last month, down from 34,299 in November 1991.

The average purchase price of a new cars last month was $17,148. Used cars, on average, cost $4,310.

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