Md. new-car sales decline 4.8 percent Slump continues for dealers in state

November 04, 1997|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN STAFF

Maryland's new-car dealers sold 4.8 percent fewer vehicles in September than they did a year previously, continuing a slump that has affected four out of the past five months.

"Business is a little bit soft 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, a trade group representing 320 new car dealers in the state. "It seems like consumers are pulling back a little bit."

Dealers sold 27,777 new cars in September, 1,394 fewer than the 29,171 that sold in September 1996, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

For the first nine months of 1997, Maryland new-car dealers sold 257,713 vehicles, down 2.2 percent from the same period in 1996.

Nationally, September was a strong month, with car sales rising at a seasonally adjusted rate of 0.6 percent. That translates into an annual rate of more than 7 percent. But retail sales generally were off in September, and many analysts blamed the death of Princess Diana of Britain, which kept millions of consumers glued to TV sets and out of stores. But the Diana phenomenon cannot be blamed for soft car sales, said Russel.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that October will be another off month for Maryland car sales, compared with October 1996, he said.

The sluggishness seems to contradict what is going on in the national economy.

"Most indicators show the economy is rolling along quite well," Russel said. "That should indicate things are quite good."

But part of the problem may be that this year's results are being lined up with what was a very good year in 1996.

Sales of used cars rose in September to 46,920 from 43,501 a year previously, up 7.9 percent.

The average price of a new car in September was $21,443. The average price of a used car was $6,379.

Pub Date: 11/04/97

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