Utility vehicles and trucks fuel buying spree

MD. AUTO SALES SOARED IN '94

January 31, 1995|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland motorists went on a new-car buying spree last year that enabled dealers in the state to nearly double the rate of sales growth posted for the industry as a whole.

State dealers sold 349,293 new vehicles in 1994, according to title registration figures compiled by the Motor Vehicle Administration. This was an increase of 15.6 percent over the 302,204 cars and trucks sold in 1993 and a gain of nearly 30 percent over 1992 deliveries.

Across the country, dealers sold 8.4 percent more new cars and light trucks in 1994 than the previous year.

"There is no doubt about it," said Alfred Shockley, president of Shockley Honda in Frederick. "1994 was a good year for our industry."

Some dealers had their best year since going into business, said the auto executive, who also is president of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association.

State dealers topped off 1994 by selling 25,039 new vehicles in December -- 5.6 percent more than in the year-ago month and matching the nationwide gain. The average price of a new vehicle was $19,779, up from $18,131 in December 1993 and $17,216 in December 1992.

Maryland was playing catch-up with the national economy last year," Michael A. Conte, director of regional economic studies at the University of Baltimore, said in explaining last year's strong growth.

"We had a tremendous second quarter," Mr. Conte said, referring to the April, May and June period when auto sales rose 33.9 percent, 29.7 percent and 21 percent.

During the last half of the year, the flurry of activity in new car showrooms across the state began to taper off, with dealers posting monthly gains of 6 percent or less in August through December, with the exception of October, when sales jumped nearly 41 percent ahead of the October 1993 pace.

Demand for truck and sport utility vehicles is credited with fueling the boom in Maryland. Charles Cooper, sales manager at Keene Dodge in Jarrettsville, said the dealership sold two trucks, including vans, for each car last year. Truck sales, he said, were up 50 percent.

The top-selling vehicle in the country last year was the Ford full-size pickup truck, followed by its counterpart at Chevrolet. 00 The Ford Taurus was the best-selling car.

With interest rates on the rise, Mr. Conte said that he does not expect state dealers to match last year's strong sales growth during the current year.

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