New car sales in Maryland fell by 6.1% last month Similar decline reported nationwide

Automotive

March 14, 1997|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

February new car sales were off 6.1 percent in Maryland, according to figures released yesterday by the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

But dealers aren't complaining.

"We always hope to do better, but things were OK," said Steve Rubin, sales manager at Westminster Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Chevrolet.

The decline last month was from a strong February 1996, when the industry benefited from two additional selling days and a carry-over of business from January after sales were hindered by poor weather.

Maryland dealers sold 18,950 cars last month. It was the third best February sales performance since 1991, when the state resumed its tabulation of vehicle registration figures that reflect sales.

"February 1996 was a very strong month" for the industry, "one of the strongest months of the year," said Burnham Securities Inc. auto analyst David Healy.

The sales decline in Maryland mirrors the national picture. Nationwide, car and light truck sales were off 4.8 percent last month.

That was not the case for most Japanese brands. Healy said that Japanese cars, including Toyota and Nissan, posted strong sales because of a weaker yen "that allowed the manufacturers to offer some very attractive leasing deals."

According to Automotive News, an industry trade publication, Toyota sales were up 12.4 percent last month and Nissan posted a 15.4 percent rise.

February also was a good month for the Chevrolet Cavalier, which vaulted into first place on the list of the best-selling cars in the United States. The Toyota Camry was No. 2, ahead of the Ford Taurus. Jeffrey Legum, president of Westminster Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Chevrolet, said the Cavalier "is a much better car" since it was redesigned by General Motors Corp. for the 1996 model year. It benefited also from the manufacturer's 3.9 percent, 60-month financing plan.

Legum said manufacturers rarely offer such attractive terms on cars that already are selling reasonably well.

He said the reduced financing plans are usually for 36 months or 48 months and most car buyers finance their purchases over 60 months. "People really liked this plan, and they took advantage of it," he said of the program, which ended March 2.

Sales of used cars, usually more profitable for dealers than new car sales, rose 6.1 percent in Maryland last month. Dealers sold 37,619 used cars, compared with 35,468 in February 1996.

The average used-car price was $6,256, a decline of $238 from January.

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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