Some of the rising consumer confidence that economists have been talking about since the election of Bill Clinton apparently affected Maryland motorists last month.
Car buyers in the state celebrated the holidays by going on a mini-spending spree, boosting new car sales 8.2 percent over December 1991, according to figures released by the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.
But 1992 will not be remembered fondly by new car dealers, as the flurry of showroom activity was not enough to offset declines earlier in the year. Dealers in the state sold 269,669 vehicles last year, down 1.3 percent from 273,090 in 1991.
For the nation, sales of cars and light trucks jumped 11.2 percent in December and ended the year up about 5 percent. The industry sold 12.9 million vehicles last year, well below its 1986 peak of 16.1 million units, said Ted Orme, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association in Washington.
Sales at Maryland dealerships were down 17 percent from the boom year of 1986, when consumers bought 324,771 new vehicles.
Jeffrey Davidson, general manager at Davidson Ford, credits Ford Motor Co.'s aggressive December sales blitz -- which led to its Taurus dethroning the Honda Accord as the top-selling car in the United States -- for a sharp rise in sales at the Parkville dealership.
Mr. Davidson said sales jumped about 50 percent at his dealership last month compared with a year earlier, as customers took advantage of $1,300 rebates on Tauruses, which carry a typical sticker price of about $15,000.
Looking back over the year, Mr. Davidson said business was "pretty slow up to the election of Bill Clinton." He said showroom traffic began picking up in November and was strong in December. January, he said, has gotten off to a good start.
The Conference Board reported that consumer confidence jumped to its highest level in December since April 1991, soon after the end of the Persian Gulf war.
Maryland dealers sold 32,974 used cars last month, at an average price of $4,656. This was up 4.2 percent over the same month the year before. For all of 1992, used car sales totaled 474,023, down 1.4 percent from the 480,830 vehicles sold in 1991.
The average price of a new car in the state was $17,216 last month, according to the MVA figures.