Maryland consumers braved January's ice and frigid temperatures to go on a car buying spree that has area dealers thinking about a return to their pre-recession heydays of the late 1980s.
"Business is good," said Paul Anecharico, sales manager at Bill Kidd's Timonium Toyota & Volvo in Cockeysville. "People are getting back in the market."
Indeed, the state Motor Vehicle Administration reported yesterday that dealers sold 22,247 new vehicles last month, up 19.5 percent from the 18,619 vehicles sold in the same period last year.
"That's a pretty humongous jump," said Michael Funk, assistant director of the University of Baltimore's Regional Economic Studies Program.
"It's an indication that the economy has turned around locally."
Mr. Anecharico said dealers are beginning to benefit from the pent up demand that auto industry officials have been talking about in recent years as the average age of cars on the road reached its highest level since the days of World War II.
"We're getting a lot of trade-ins with high mileage," he said, noting that it is not unusual in today's market for a buyer to trade a car with 150,000 or 160,000 miles on the odometer.
The auto show, held at the Baltimore Convention Center last month, helped sales, according to Ronald Bortnick, president of Ron Bortnick Ford in Upper Marlboro. But the major force behind the current sales boom, he said, has to do with consumer confidence.
"From what I'm seeing," Mr. Bortnick said, "people have less fear about losing their job. A year ago they were very reluctant to take on any debt."