New-car deliveries off 6.7% in Maryland 5.2% rise reported for rest of nation

August 14, 1996|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

New-car deliveries in Maryland dipped 6.7 percent last month, as dealers were unable to hold on to the sales momentum they picked up in June, according to figures released yesterday by the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

The decline marked a return to the norm for state dealers, whose sales have lagged behind their counterparts in the rest of the country for more than a year.

Until sales rose 7.2 percent in June, Maryland dealers had posted lower sales in 14 of the previous 15 months, some of them double-digit declines.

Dealers blamed the lower sales on a variety of reasons, including job insecurity, rainy weather, economic jitters, inventory shortages and the Olympics.

George Doetsch, president of Apple Ford in Columbia, said his sales were up, but he acknowledged that this was not the case statewide.

"For some reason," he said, "sales in Maryland lag behind the rest of the nation. Maybe it has to do with our heavy dependence on the defense industry," which is still in the midst of consolidation and work-force reductions.

The dip in sales here last month compares with a 5.2 percent rise in car and light truck sales for the nation, according to Automotive News, an industry trade publication.

In other parts of the country, consumer attitudes about the economy remain upbeat. The Conference Board said its index of consumer confidence advanced to 107.2 in July -- the highest level in more than six years.

That doesn't seem to be the case in Maryland. Doetsch said it appears that car buyers are suffering from "a bad case of economic jitters" that have stymied their willingness to take on monthly car payments.

"We have a lot of government workers, and they are not sure they are going to have a job next month," he said echoing the thoughts of several other Maryland dealers.

Brian Meritt, a partner in the automotive division at Walpert, Smullian & Blumenthal, a Towson accounting and management consulting company, said there were fewer market incentives and rebate programs from the manufacturers last month than in July 1995. He said the Olympics, with their high television ratings, also kept some potential car buyers at home.

Thomas W. Bell Jr., owner of Bell Motor Co. Inc., a Chevrolet, Geo, Buick and Oldsmobile dealership in Leonardtown, blamed the Federal Reserve and its chairman, Alan Greenspan, for some of the auto dealers' problems.

"It doesn't help that the Fed is always playing some Mickey Mouse game with interest rates," he said. "The public doesn't know if Greenspan is to raise rates or leave them be. It keeps people stirred up. They don't know whether to buy or not to buy."

Bell and several other dealers reported that shortages of hot selling models, especially sport utility vehicles and light trucks, also hindered sales.

According to MVA figures, dealers sold 28,827 new cars and trucks last month, a drop from the 30,888 vehicles sold in the same period last year. Dealers had 22 selling days last month, compared with 21 in June 1995.

Pub Date: 8/14/96

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