Hamilton County's car sales best in 4 years

Hamilton County's car sales best in 4 years

March 2nd, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region


New vehicles titled in Hamilton County for the month:

• 2012 - 896

• 2011 - 775

• 2010 - 593

• 2009 - 552

• 2008 - 1,000

Source: Hamilton County Clerk's Office

Hamilton County auto sales last month sped to their highest February mark since the Great Recession put the brakes on the industry four years ago.

However, there are worries that spiraling fuel prices could throw a wrench into sales.

If gas prices skyrocket, the consumer mood could shift into reverse, said Capital Toyota sales manager David Hicks.

"I think people are feeling better about the economy," he said. "It could be a different story."

Still, new vehicles titled in February in Hamilton County careened ahead by 15.6 percent over a year ago to 896 units, according to the Clerk's Office.

Dwight Morgan, general manager of Integrity Buick GMC Cadillac, said sales rose about 17 percent in February over the same period last year.

"We've got great product, great inventory," he said.

Morgan said his product lines have fuel-efficient vehicles if that's what the buyer wants.

"Some people need a larger vehicle," he said. "If a contractor has to have a truck in his work, he has to have a truck."

Tom Folliard, chief executive of auto retailer CarMax, said Wednesday at the opening of its new Chattanooga store that business companywide is "pretty good."

"Like everybody, we took a big hit during the recession," he said. "Our sales have come back to the level where we're out building stores again."

Folliard, whose business focuses on used vehicles but sells new cars at some stores, plans to open 10 more dealerships nationwide in the next 12 months. It has 108 superstores.

"Over the next four years we'll build about 50 stores," Folliard said.

Hicks at Capital Toyota said the dealership had a lot of buyers last month.

"When you've got a lot of traffic, it generates a lot of car sales," he said, adding the store had an above-average February.

Nationwide, General Motors, the country's biggest auto company, reported a surprise U.S. sales gain for February while Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Co., and Toyota Motor Corp. also topped analysts' estimates, according to Bloomberg.

GM deliveries rose 1.1 percent to 209,306 cars and light trucks, beating analysts' estimates for a 4.8 percent decrease.

Chrysler sales increased 40 percent to 133,521 and Ford's climbed 14 percent to 178,644. Toyota and Honda Motor Co. deliveries each gained 12 percent, while Nissan Motor Co. sales rose 16 percent.

Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp., the affiliates that operate separately, combined to increase sales 26 percent from a year earlier, according to Bloomberg.

Bloomberg contributed to this story.