New-car sales continue to slide in Maryland They fell 9.3% last month

used-car sales off 1.8%

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

The healthy gains in new-car sales being enjoyed by dealers nationwide continue to elude Maryland, according to figures released yesterday by the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

Maryland's approximately 350 new-car outlets sold a collective 25,789 new vehicles last month, 9.3 percent fewer deliveries than they made in October 1995. Nationwide, car and light truck sales rose 6.2 percent in October.

Used-car sales in Maryland also were down, but the decline was not nearly as sharp. Dealers sold 44,832 previously owned vehicles last month, 1.8 percent fewer than in October 1995.

The drop in new car sales continued a pattern of sluggish business that has haunted Maryland dealers all year. October was the fourth consecutive month in which sales fell below the corresponding period in 1995.

There were only two months this year that dealers in Maryland were able to celebrate sales gains. In February, sales were up 0.6 percent and in June, they increased 7.2 percent.

"Frankly, I can't explain it," Alfred P. Shockley, president of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association, said of plunging sales. His trade group represents a majority of Maryland dealers.

He said the 14 or 15 dealers attending the trade association's board meeting on Tuesday couldn't explain the sales trend. "Some said 'Business is slow.' Others said,'Things are all right.'"

Shockley also is president of a Honda dealership in Frederick, which he said suffered from a shortage of hot-selling cars early in October.

"The second half of the month, we didn't see any buyers. There were days when it didn't pay for us to stay open," he said.

He believes that declines in government employment -- both federal and state -- have hurt business in Maryland by reducing consumer confidence below national levels.

"There is not a strong feeling of consumer confidence here," he said. "The average person finances a new-car purchase over four or five years, and I think that is a difficult decision for a lot of people to make."

Economists at the Regional Economics Studies Institute at Towson State University blame the lackluster auto sales on the state's struggling economy. They note that Maryland's economy is weaker than that for the nation, in terms of income growth and employment growth.

The 10 best-selling vehicles last month, according to Automotive News, an industry trade publication, were the Ford F series pickup truck, Chevrolet pickup, Ford Explorer, Ford Taurus, Honda Accord, Dodge pickup, Toyota Camry, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevrolet Blazer and Saturn.

There is no indication that a sales boom is just around the corner, Automotive News said.

The top executives of the Big Three domestic automakers predict modest growth next year, with industry sales of 15 million to 15.5 million vehicles next year.

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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