Auto sales up in U.S., fall in Hamilton County

Auto sales up in U.S., fall in Hamilton County

April 3rd, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Matthew Miller of Omaha shops for a car in Omaha, Neb.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

POLL: Are you planning on buying a new car in the next six months?

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

HAMILTON COUNTY SALES

New cars and trucks registered so far in the county are down for March and for the quarter compared to a year ago:

2013

• January, 1,102

• February, 825

• March, 1,019

• Total, 2,946

2012

• January, 1032

• February, 896

• March, 1,099

• Total, 3,027

Source: Hamilton County Clerk's Office

Auto sales in the U.S. nearly hit the 1.5 million mark in March, likely making it the best month in almost six years.

But Chattanooga new vehicle sales were off as cars and trucks titled were down 7.2 percent for the month, according to vehicle registrations compiled by the Hamilton County Clerk's Office.

Danny Skates, president of Jackson Chevrolet Buick GMC in LaFayette, Ga., said March was "not as good as we would have liked it. It was about average."

But, he said, the quarter was up for the dealership.

"General Motors has a lot of new product," Skates said. "That's created excitement and has helped us."

GM reported that overall U.S. sales rose 6.4 percent to 245,950 vehicles versus the same month a year earlier.

Jonathan Browning, Volkswagen Group of America's chief executive, said the automaker is predicting sales to come in at above 15 million this year in the U.S. That's on pace for the best year of new car and truck sales since the recession.

But he took a cautious tone, saying there are "potholes and bumps still in the road."

At the same time, VW posted a 3.1 increase in sales over a year ago to 37,704 units -- it's best March in 40 years.

While sales of 9,521 Chattanooga-made Passats fell 5.1 percent in March compared to the same month last year, the first quarter for the midsize sedan was a record for the vehicle, Browning said.

He said 34 percent of all Passats sold last month had diesel engines.

Toyota posted monthly U.S. sales of 205,342 vehicles, up 1 percent.

Cedric Elliott of Toyota of Cleveland said Tuesday he's seeing more people returning to their old car-buying ways.

"People are getting back to purchasing," said the dealership's sales manager.

Nissan North America recorded March U.S. sales of 137,726 -- the best-ever month for the automaker and up 1 percent from a year earlier.

The Nissan Leaf, the Japanese carmaker's all-electric car, had its best month ever with 2,236 sales, thanks to the debut of the Smyrna, Tenn.-produced, lower-priced 2013 model.

Altima sales totaled 37,763, while the Pathfinder SUV delivered its best-ever March, with 9,071 sales, up 177.1 percent. Both those vehicles are assembled in Smyrna as well.

Ford posted sales of 236,160 vehicles last month, up 5.7 percent.

"Full-size pickup demand continues gaining momentum, outperforming the industry for the third consecutive month," said Ken Czubay, a Ford vice president.

Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at Edmunds.com, said the industry isn't quite back to pre-recession levels. But, she said, it's getting closer to a full recovery every month.

McClatchy News Service contributed to this report.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.