The new car and light truck sales boom in Maryland continues at a surprising pace, according to figures released yesterday by the state Motor Vehicle Administration.
Dealers sold 24 percent more vehicles last month than in March 1999.
Showroom business was stronger last month than in any March since 1991, when the MVA resumed releasing title-registration figures, which equate to sales.
It was the 17th consecutive month in which sales were higher than in the corresponding month of the previous year.
For the first three months of the year, sales here are running 22.4 percent ahead of last year. This compares with a first-quarter gain of 11.6 percent for the nation as a whole.
"Business continues to be very strong, better than a lot of dealers expected, and we don't see it ending anytime soon," said Peter Kitzmiller, president of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association. The trade group represents the majority of the state's 350 new car dealers.
"It's astonishing," said Anirban Basu, director of applied economics for Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute. "No one could have predicted this. Consumers continue to step it up month after month."
Basu said state consumers continue to feel that they will remain gainfully employed with future increases in wages and benefits.
Kitzmiller said he had feared that the exceptionally strong sales in January and February were stealing future business. "But that is not happening."
He attributes the robust selling activity to Maryland's economic good health. "Overall, the economy keeps rolling along and, obviously, we are a reflection of that trend" he said.
Kitzmiller said trucks, including sport utility vehicles and pickups, continue to sell at a blistering pace, leaving some dealers short of certain models.
Trucks accounted for seven of the 10 best selling vehicles in the country last month, according to Automotive News, an industry trade publication.
The Ford Taurus was the nation's best selling car last month, finishing in fifth place behind two Ford pickup trucks, a Chevrolet pickup and the Ford Explorer, a sport utility vehicle.
Toyota Camry and Honda Accord were the other two cars to make the top-10 list, finishing seventh and eighth, respectively.
Kitzmiller said strong vehicle sales in Maryland have some dealers experiencing a shortage of employees.
He said there is strong competition within the industry for sales people and mechanics.
The MVA said consumers bought 38,605 new vehicles last month. That compares with 31,132 in March 1999. Both periods had 23 selling days.
Sales activity on the used car lot was also strong, but lagging behind the pace of new vehicle sales. The MVA reported used vehicle sales totaled 58,004 last month, a gain of 9 percent over March of last year.