Md. car sales up 10%, despite GM shutdown Effects of strikes barely felt, thanks to large inventories


July 25, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

State consumers took advantage of manufacturers' incentives and went on a new-car spending spree last month that boosted sales slightly more than 10 percent, according to figures released yesterday by the Motor Vehicle Administration.

"June is always a good month, but this June was exceptionally good," said Jerome H. Fader, president of Heritage Automotive Group of Owings Mills, which operates 25 new-car franchises in the metropolitan area. "My guess is that people were getting ready for vacation and decided to get a new car."

Based on title registrations, which equate to sales, the MVA said consumers bought 33,273 new vehicles in June.

That compares with 30,151 bought during the corresponding period last year.

Sales of used vehicles totaled 51,466 in June, up 6 percent from the 48,558 units sold in June 1997, the MVA reported.

Dealers had 22 selling days in each period.

According to the MVA, the average price of a new vehicle was $20,993 last month -- about $204 above the average price in May.

The 7-week-old United Auto Workers strike against two General Motors Corp. parts plants in Flint, Mich., didn't seem to have any impact on sales.

"June was a very good month. Car sales were strong and trucks were extremely hot," said John W. Miller, president of Miller Bros. Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Ford in Ellicott City.

Several dealers, including Miller and Chuck Boyle, president of Boyle Buick Inc. in Bel Air, credited strong inventories for the increase in June sales.

Boyle said that a strong used-car market also stimulated new-car showroom activity. "It equates to high trade-in values," he said.

"There was a lot of pent-up demand for new cars," said Robert Bell, president of Bob Bell Automotive, which sells Chevrolets, Fords, Nissans and Hyundais in Glen Burnie, Essex and Bel Air.

He said the factory incentives, including the $500 to $1,000 rebates offered by the big three automakers, helped boost business.

Although state dealers are not complaining, sales here did not keep pace with those for the nation as a whole.

U.S. car and light truck sales increased 18.7 percent in June, a record pace that could mean 16.5 million new vehicles will be sold this year, according to Automotive News, an industry trade publication.

The U.S. sales record of 16.03 million vehicles was set in 1986.

But nobody is predicting that 1998 will be a record year.

The rebates have ended and industry analysts say the GM strike, which has halted most of its vehicle production, will bring to an end any chance of a record year.

Ron Zarrella, group vice president for GM's North American sales, told Automotive News that July sales will be down 150,000 to 200,000 units.

Despite the strike, area GM dealers said they have enough vehicles in stock to meet customer demands. They said, however, that some popular sport utility vehicles, including the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, are becoming scarce.

Pub Date: 7/25/98

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