Car sales hit critical mass

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Published: September 13,1999

Zero- and low-interest financing, rebates and a strong national economy have created a car-buying boom that has some manufacturers seeing their best sales in history.

June 1999 was the best month for car sales in the 96-year history of Ford Motor Co. General Motors sales were the best in a decade, and Honda has been seeing their record sales level exceeded nearly every month for two and a half years.

“As a general rule, the market is better than I’ve ever seen it,” says Chris Carrubba, general sales manager, Turan-Foley Oldsmobile Cadillac, Gulfport “The interest rates have recently been at an all-time low. GMAC is offering zero percent in lieu of rebates. The credit unions have gotten aggressive in financing automobiles. Banks also have attractive rates, at or below 7%. When the Fed upped the prime rate recently, banks raised their rates but we haven’t seen that happen with the credit unions or at GMAC.”

Although sales are good nationwide, Carrubba believes the Coast is outpacing the national average because of the increase in the Coast’s population. He attributes that growth largely to the casino industry.

Bill Lines, sales manager for Astro Ford, D’Iberville, agrees that low interest rates, rebates and a strong Coast economy have combined to increase car sales.

“The car business has been excellent, and on a steady upswing,” Lines said. “The Coast economy as a whole has contributed to it. Everyone is in an up mood about the economy of the Coast. Everyone seems confident. The only unemployed on the Gulf Coast are really, really lazy.”

Lines said sales at Astro Ford in July were up 32% over a year ago. The only fly in the ointment is finding enough employees.

“I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and I have never seen it when you couldn’t find employees like now,” he said.

Another dealership seeing increased sales is Crown Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Pascagoula.

“Car sales are doing great,” said Robert Dalgo, sales manager for Crown Dodge Chrysler Jeep. “Our particular dealership is up probably 20%. The market is about the same as it was, but we are doing a lot of things differently. We attribute all of our increase to customer repeat business. Customer satisfaction always helps us do better and better each year.”

Jerry Albritton, general sales manager for Estabrook Ford-Nissan, Pascagoula, also reported an upward trend in car sales.

“We’re having another great year,” Albritton said. “We have a great economy in all three coastal counties. Unemployment is down. There is a just a general excitement on the Coast if you ask me. People are optimistic about the economy. The Coast is just absolutely thriving at the present time. Obviously some of it is casino based, but a lot of other businesses and industries are expanding.

“When people feel good they spent money, upgrade what they are driving. It’s all an attitude. In my opinion the Gulf Coast will be the next metropolitan area of Mississippi. There is no doubt. We’re definitely moving in the right direction. If a man wants a job, he can find a job. Unemployment should be zero. The few people who aren’t working don’t want to work. Every place you see and they have “I’m hiring” signs up. Everyplace on Coast needs salesmen and mechanics. Everything is expanding.”

Jackson car dealers also report good sales.

“Sales are doing a lot better. We’re very pleased,” says Robb Colson, sales manager, Fowler Buick-GMC, Jackson. “Our floor traffic is up quite a bit. Sales are booming nationwide. Everyone is doing really well. As a matter of fact, the car business, including sport utility vehicles, is on pace for a record year. There is a good economy. Consumer confidence is real high. Also in sales you tend to have peaks and valleys. A lot of cars coming in on trade are five, six, seven years old. For a lot of people, it is just time to buy a new car.”

Brett Hutchins, sales manager for Metro Mazda Hyundai Suzuki in Jackson estimated sales are up 18% over 1998. He also credited a lot of that to a strong economy. Hutchins is seeing more customers opting to buy new. In the past more used cars were sold than new ones. But now new car sales are outpacing sales of used cars.

Hutchins believes that may be because manufacturers are now offering both low interest rates and rebates combined whereas, in the past, they used to offer one or the other.

“If it just comes down to what monthly payment you can afford, you can buy a new car for the same as a used car payment,” Hutchins said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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