Used-car sales jump in Md. New-car sales fall, and one dealer cites effect of high prices

February 11, 1997|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Maryland motorists continued their buying spree last month, but most of the wheeling and dealing was done on the used car lot.

According to figures released yesterday by the Motor Vehicle Administration, sales of previously owned vehicles jumped 16.8 percent when compared with January of 1996.

At the same time, new-car sales were off 9.2 percent.

"Used cars are the buzz-words in our industry right now," said Robert C. Russel, president of R&H Motor Cars Ltd. in Owings Mills and chairman of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association.

Russel said there is a strong consumer trend toward used cars at this time. "Maybe this has something to do with the price of new cars and the fact that cars are made better today, and there are some good buys in used cars," he said.

The MVA figures show that motorists bought 37,059 used cars last month, compared with 31,730 in January 1996.

There were nearly 73 percent more used cars registered in the state last month than new models.

"It was a good month for our used-car business," said Eric Swanson, vice president of Ernie Swanson Oldsmobile in Glen Burnie. "In January 1996, with the big blizzard, most of our business was in four-wheel-drive vehicles. This year, it's across the board. We're selling high-performance cars, family sedans and sport utility vehicles," he said.

The MVA reported that the average new-car price was $21,682 last month. The average used-car price was $6,494.

Bruce Rogers, president of Sherwood on the Shore, a Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealership in Berlin, said prices normally dip at used car auctions this time of the year. But not this year.

"It was always a nice time for dealers to stock their inventory," he said. "You could save $400 to $500 on late model vehicles. But this year the market is strong and prices are holding firm."

Rogers said the used-car industry is benefiting also from the increased interest on the part of banks to finance used car purchases.

But business is not as good for the new car market. "Things are more quiet on the new-car front," Russel said.

Dealers sold 21,441 new cars and trucks last month, down from 23,622 in the same period last year when many dealers were closed two or more days because of the blizzard that dumped nearly two feet of snow over the state.

Despite the snow, Russel said that January 1996 was not a bad selling period. "The second half of the month was strong. Actually, it was pretty good month."

According to the MVA, January 1996 new-car sales were the second best for that month in the past five years.

Pub Date: 2/11/97

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