New-car sales off, but dealers still happy

Strong sales in 2000 make 13.5% decrease easier to swallow

March 28, 2001|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

New-car sales dropped 13.5 percent in Maryland last month, but dealers aren't complaining.

Despite the drop, sales were still considered fairly strong, said Peter Kitzmiller, president of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association, a trade group representing the majority of the state's 350 new-car dealerships.

Kitzmiller noted that sales in February of last year were exceptionally strong, rising 35 percent, and that a decline from those numbers was considered virtually certain.

Dealers sold 26,381 new cars and trucks last month, down from 30,489 in the corresponding period a year ago, according to figures released yesterday by the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

Last month's sales still represented the second-highest February total since 1991, when the MVA resumed releasing title-registration figures.

"February of 2000 was an incredibly strong month, and last month's dip should not be interpreted as a sign of a weakening or weakness in the economy," said Anirban Basu, director of applied economics for Towson's University's Regional Economic Studies Institute.

Kitzmiller said that sport utility vehicles have lost some of their luster in recent months. "The Ford Expedition and the Chevrolet Suburban - two vehicles that were really, really hot - have cooled off a bit," he said.

He attributed a drop of nearly 32 percent in Ford Explorer sales last month more to the company's delay in introducing its redesigned 2002 model than to its problem with Firestone tires.

For the nation, sales of cars and light trucks - including sport utility vehicles, vans and pickups - were off nearly 10 percent.

Boosted by robust showroom activity in January, sales of cars and light trucks in Maryland are up slightly for the first two months of this year. Dealers have sold 57,212 vehicles so far this year, up from 56,725 during January and February of 2000.

The MVA said the average selling price for a new car or truck last month was $23,594.

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