Maryland new-car sales creep ahead of '92 pace

February 27, 1993|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

If new-car sales measure consumer sentiment, Maryland's economy is far from high-gearing it out of the doldrums.

According to figures released yesterday by the Motor Vehicle Administration, total vehicle sales were up just 2.1 percent last month compared with January 1992, according to title registrations in the state.

While the numbers showed a slight increase, those in the industry pointed out that last month's figures were being compared with January 1992 -- not a particularly strong selling period for dealers.

The MVA figures showed that Maryland motorists bought 18,619 new vehicles last month, up from 18,232 a year earlier.

Consumers continued to show a strong preference for vehicles on the used-car lot, where cars cost about one-fourth the price of new models. Although used-car sales dropped 2.7 percent last month, dealers sold more than 31,000 previously owned cars, at an average price of $4,467.

As was the case throughout last year, Maryland consumers still seem more reluctant than motorists in other parts of the country to take on the financial burden of car payments.

Ted Orme, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association in Washington, noted that for the nation as a whole, sales of cars and light trucks were up 5.2 percent last month.

"It's a spotty situation," said Mr. Orme, noting that certain regions of the country were doing much worse than others. "Dealers in California are posting depression-level sales." The mid-Atlantic area, including Maryland, he added, "is not setting the world on fire."

Mr. Orme noted that a dependence on the defense industry appeared to be the common denominator among the regions of the country where consumer confidence was waning. California is No. 1 in terms of dependence on military contracts, and Maryland is the fifth-most defense-dependent state.

Dealers in the Baltimore area have said that layoff announcements at Westinghouse Electric Corp. have hurt their business.

Mr. Orme said national figures showed that domestic sales by the "Big Three" U.S. automakers were up 8.7 percent last month. Sales of Japanese models, he said, were off 4.8 percent during the period, and European imports were down 5 percent.

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