Car sales a record in Maryland

101,193 purchases in last 3 months top off annual high

Cheap money is catalyst

Low-interest deals send state motorists on a buying spree

February 07, 2002|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Maryland motorists went on a fourth-quarter buying spree that boosted sales of new vehicles to a record last year, according to figures released yesterday by the Motor Vehicle Administration.

Lured by low-interest financing - zero on many models - motorists bought 101,193 vehicles in the last three months of the year - nearly 13,000 more cars and light trucks than during the last quarter of 2000.

It was the strongest fourth-quarter selling period for dealers since 1991, when the MVA resumed releasing vehicle title registration figures, which equate to sales.

December sales of 28,222 represented the best selling period for that month on record.

"It was a great year; it has to be our best ever," said Peter Kitzmiller, president of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association, a trade group representing most of the state's 350 dealers.

"The last quarter made a good year even better," he said. "There is no question that zero-percent financing was driving sales during the quarter."

Maryland auto dealers fared better than their counterparts elsewhere. The 8.4 percent jump in December vs. 5.7 percent nationwide while the fourth-quarter gain of 14.5 percent here compared with a 13 percent rise nationally.

For the year, Maryland sales were up 0.9 percent, compared with a drop of 1.3 percent for the country as a whole.

"It is a result of Maryland's economy outperforming the U.S. economy," said Anirban Basu, director of applied economics for Towson University's RESI research institute.

"The financial incentives were available to Maryland and non-Marylanders," he said, "but as a wealthy state, people here were in a better position to take advantage of the incentives than motorists in other parts of the country and we did."

Paul Taylor, chief economist with the National Automobile Dealers Association, attributed the strong sales in Maryland in strength from its high technology and medical industries.

He said the state's heavy dependence on the defense industry may have also been a slight factor in the sales increase. But that is more likely to benefit the auto dealers in months to come as the Pentagon bumps up defense spending, he said.

For the full year dealers sold 403,477 vehicles, up from 399,880 during 2000.

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