New-vehicle sales decline across state 1.2% October dip contrasts with 10% rise nationally

Maryland economy

December 01, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Maryland consumers tightened their purse strings and sat out the surprising new-car buying frenzy that swept much of the nation in October, according to figures released yesterday by the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

The 1.2 percent decline in new-vehicle sales in the state during October contrasted sharply with the 10 percent boost in car and light truck deliveries nationally.

"Dealers that I've have talked to said that October was a pretty good month," 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.

The slight dip in sales here came at a time when the Conference Board was reporting that consumer confidence had declined to its lowest level in nearly two years.

Raymond C. Nichols, chairman of BSCAmerica Inc., a Baltimore-based company that operates six auto auctions throughout the country, said he noticed a slight dip in sales that started in late September and carried into October. He speculated that consumers were distracted by stock market gyrations and the Asian crisis.

"Nobody can point to any one thing," he said, "but there was a drop in the auto market before it seemed to bounce back again last month."

Based on its title registration figures, which equate to sales, the MVA said consumers bought 28,164 new vehicles in October. That compares with 28,677 in October 1997.

The MVA reported total used-vehicle sales in October at 47,764 units. This was up less than 1 percent from the previously owned vehicles sold in October 1997. There were 21 selling days in both periods.

The average price for a new car in October increased by $538, to $22,203, from the previous month.

The 9.8 percent jump in new-vehicle sales nationally surprised analysts, who expected sales to reflect the lower factory incentives being offered and worries about the global economy.

Pub Date: 12/01/98

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