Md. new-car sales rise in Dec., dip for year

9.8% surge last month led by demand for trucks, especially sport utilities

Auto industry

January 27, 1999|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Maryland new-car dealers closed out last year with a rally that brought full year sales very close to the 1997 level, according to figures released yesterday by the Motor Vehicle Administration.

New-vehicle sales jumped 9.8 percent in December over sales the previous December, pushing sales for the full year to 328,132. That represents a decline of less than 1 percent from total sales in 1997.

Bruce Rogers, president of Sherwood on the Shore, a Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealership in Berlin, Worcester County, and a director of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association, said sales were particularly strong in the last week of December.

"People feel good about the economy and it shows," he said. "There was also a rush to take advantage of incentives."

What's hot? "It's no secret," Rogers responded: "Trucks, trucks, trucks. The sport utility business is out of this world."

Rogers said that truck sales are benefiting from record-low gasoline prices that have fuel selling for 20 cents to 30 cents less than a gallon of bottled water.

He said the used-car business "is unbelievable" throughout the state.

It shows in the Motor Vehicle Administration's numbers. Used-vehicle sales were up 7.7 percent in December. For the full year, they were up 2 percent.

SUV demand strong

The year just ended marked the sixth consecutive annual sales gain by used-car and truck dealers.

Rogers said that the demand for used sport utility vehicles is so strong that they are fetching nearly the price of new models.

As an example, he said, a 1998 Ford Explorer coming out of the rental fleet with 20,000 miles on it will sell for only $1,000 to $1,500 less than a new Explorer.

Based on its title registration figures, which are equivalent to sales, the MVA said consumers bought 24,746 new vehicles last month. That compares with 22,533 in December 1997.

The MVA reported total used-vehicle sales in December at 41,049 units.

Dealers had 22 selling days last month, one more than they had in same period of 1997.

The average price for a new car in December increased by $1,032, to $23,516, from the previous month.

Robert C. Russel, president of R&H Motor Cars Ltd. in Owings Mills and past chairman of the state dealers group, said the average price increase is "indicative of the popularity of luxury car sport utility vehicles."

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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