Number of new cars and trucks titled in Hamilton County in the first three months of 2011 compared to a year ago and percent change:
* January - 925, up 25.6 percent
* February - 775, up 30.6 percent
* March - 989, up 13.1 percent
* Total - 2,689, up 22 percent
Source: Clerk's Office
New car sales will return later this month to a downtown Chattanooga site with a long automotive history.
Edd Kirby's Adventure Cars on M.L. King Boulevard has won a Mazda franchise and will begin selling new cars in addition to the dealership's stable of used vehicles, said owner Joe Kirby.
Kirby opened the used car dealership last year.
"We saw it would work as a used car outlet alone," he said about the location near BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. "Adding a new car franchise makes it a better investment."
For 40 years, the site held Lawrence-Doster Motor Co. before that business merged with Mountain View Ford in 2006 and the Lincoln-Mercury inventory was moved to East 20th Street.
Kirby said he plans to spend about $150,000 renovating the dealership to sell the Mazda nameplate.
"We'll update it a little," he said. "Mazda has got an individual sort of look."
The auto dealer said that with gasoline prices soaring and Mazda's line-up of fuel-sipping vehicles, the timing is right.
"There could not be a better product to sell at this time," he said.
Kirby said a Mazda dealer in Cleveland, Tenn., has held the closest franchise to Chattanooga over the past few years.
Kim White, who heads the nonprofit downtown development group River City Co., said Kirby's Mazda franchise gives people another reason to come and stay in the central city.
"It shows a lot of confidence in downtown," she said, adding it will generate added sales tax in the city's core.
Tom Fransescon, president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's Downtown Council, said he wouldn't be surprised if other new car dealers return to the central city.
"There were a number of new car dealers for many years," he said.
Kirby said he didn't want to open a dealership on Chapman Road where many are already.
"We wanted something in a pretty location," he said. "Downtown is beautiful. It has easy access."
Kirby said he is projecting Mazda sales alone could reach between 500 and 750 a year.
"The potential is 60 a month," he said.
Kirby also operates Edd Kirby's Adventure Chevrolet dealership in Dalton, Ga.