Chattanooga: Even with high gas prices, local truck sales solid

Chattanooga: Even with high gas prices, local truck sales solid

April 27th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Ford F-150s sit in a line at Marshall Mize Ford on Tuesday as auto shoppers browsed through the cars and trucks at the dealership. Despite high gas prices, auto buyers are continuing to buy large vehicles and trucks. Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press

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VEHICLE SALES

Number of new vehicles registered in Hamilton County so far in 2011 and percent change over a year ago:

* January: 925, up 25.6 percent

* February: 775, up 30.6 percent

* March: 989, up 13.1 percent

TRUCK SALES

Hamilton County new trucks and SUVs registered this year and percent change over a year ago:

* January: 468, up 24.8 percent

* February: 426, up 38.7 percent

* March: 494, up 2.2 percent

Source: Hamilton County Clerk's Office

Thad Narramore of Marshal Mize Ford says the Hixson dealership has sold as many trucks as cars so far this month.

While buyers are keenly aware of rising fuel prices, they've seen spikes before, the new-vehicle sales manager said.

"It's not shock and awe," Narramore said.

Chattanooga area auto dealers say that while customers are looking at fuel-sipping cars, those aren't all that are selling.

Bob Lollar, sales manager at Walter Jackson Chevrolet in Ringgold, Ga., said there's no question that cars such as the new compact Chevy Cruze have captured buyers' interest, but truck sales remain solid.

"You'd think it would slow trucks down somewhat, but it has tended not to do that yet," he said.

In Hamilton County, just one more new car than truck was registered in March - 495 to 494, according to the clerk's office.

For the year through March, new trucks have outsold cars - 1,388 to 1,301, county figures show.

While more used cars than trucks were sold last month, the number of trucks, 1,820, was the highest monthly figure registered since August 2007, according to data.

Regular unleaded gas in Chattanooga on Tuesday averaged $3.67 per gallon, up from $2.69 a year ago, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. That's nowhere near the all-time high recorded Sept. 18, 2008, of $3.97, AAA reports.

Chattanooga area gas prices are trending lower than the national average, which Tuesday was $3.86 per gallon for regular unleaded.

Sherrill Whitfield, Al Johnson Volkswagen's new-vehicle sales manager in Dalton, Ga., said the dealership has seen a lot of interest in the redesigned compact Jetta.

"The diesel Jetta has been very popular," he said. "They sell quicklike." The diesel engine gets 42 miles per gallon on the highway, according to VW.

Lollar said carmakers are making more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. The midsize Malibu, for example, can garner over 30 mpg on the highway, he said.

Even trucks are leaner fuel burners, he said. The Silverado with a 5.3-liter engine can get 20 miles a gallon on the highway, Lollar said.

Concerning sport utility vehicles, he said he can't get enough of the small Chevy Equinox to keep on the lot.

Narramore said $4 a gallon gas might have more of an impact on future buyers.

Michael Jenkins, of Soddy-Daisy, said Tuesday that he's conscious about gas mileage, but it only "might" stop him from buying a truck or SUV.

"If [gas] keeps going up, it would," he said.

Chris Morris, of Chattanooga, said he'd definitely look at fuel efficiency as a shopper.

"You get more bang for the buck," he said.