Md. car sales zoomed 35% in Feb.

Economy's `hitting on all 8 cylinders,' says analyst

Motor vehicles

March 30, 2000|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

New cars and light trucks sold at a blistering pace in Maryland last month, more than double the rise in national sales, according to figures released yesterday by the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

"It's mind-boggling," Chuck Boyle, president of Boyle Buick Inc. in Abingdon, said of the 35.4 percent increase in vehicle sales last month over February's sales in 1999.

Boyle is also chairman of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association, which represents the majority of Maryland's 350 new-car dealers.

Showroom business was stronger last month than in any February since 1991, when the MVA resumed releasing title-registration figures, which equate to sales.

It was the 16th consecutive month in which sales were higher than in the corresponding month of the previous year.

Sales have been up in 20 of the past 22 months.

"It's remarkable," said Anirban Basu, director of applied economics for Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute. "It's a combination of the economy being very good and consumer confidence being very high."

He said the buying spree by motorists is helped by gains in real income and the strong belief by consumers that income will continue to rise.

"Maryland's economy is hitting on all eight cylinders," Basu added.

Boyle said manufacturers' rebates and incentives were the best that they have been in some time. "It was like a feeding frenzy," he said of the brisk showroom sales activity during the last week of the month.

As an indication that rebates and incentives played a role in last month's strong sales, the average price for a new vehicle in February dropped $140 to $23,296.

The sizzling sales activity here compared with a 16.5 percent gain in car and light truck sales for the nation as a whole last month.

Boyle said the rise in gasoline prices seemed to have no impact on sales in Maryland. "From what I saw and from talking to other dealers, large vehicles, including trucks and SUVs [sport utility vehicles], are still bringing top dollars. I don't think the rise in fuel cost put a scare in anybody."

The MVA said consumers bought 30,489 new vehicles last month. That compares with 22,519 in February 1999.

The sales of used vehicles last month was 45,029, up 8.4 percent from the number of previously owned vehicles sold in February 1999, the MVA reported.

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