Auto sales slowing down in Chattanooga area

Auto sales slowing down in Chattanooga area

July 2nd, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Staff Photo by John Rawlston A salesman at Economy Honda talks with a customer.

New vehicle sales

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

Lori Ridge of Hixson says she's not looking for a new car or truck this year and she's happily satisfied with her paid-off vehicles.

"It eliminates another bill," she said about not managing a car payment. "It feels good to have something you own."

She's apparently not the only one who feels that way as new car and truck sales of 982 units in June in Hamilton County were off 11.6 percent compared to last year.

For the first half of 2013, the number of new vehicles titled in the county are down 2.8 percent, according to the Hamilton County Clerk's Office.

The decreases are contrary to national figures which are running at a sharply higher sales rate so far this year.

Estimates are that the seasonally adjusted annualized rate in the U.S. in June is expected to hit 15.7 million units, according to TrueCar.com. That's up from the 14.5 million vehicles sold in 2012, which was a five-year high.

Still, Joe Kirby, owner of Edd Kirby's Adventure Mazda, said the economy isn't what is used to be.

"The good old days are not back," he said, adding that his Mazda dealership in downtown Chattanooga is doing well.

Kirby said the auto industry hasn't gotten back to pre-recession levels.

"There's still room for improvement," he said.

Local new car and truck registrations reflect that sentiment.

In 2004, for example, dealers sold nearly 30 percent more cars in Hamilton County in the first six months than so far this year.

In June 2004, 1,836 cars were titled. That's compared to 982 last month, off 46.5 percent from a decade ago.

Ron Kwiatkowski, Village Volkswagen's sales manager, said sales have been "a little soft all year."

"Last year was a banner year," he said. "Maybe we robbed a few deals from last year."

Kwiatkowski said the Riverbend Festival also tends to put a lull into June sales.

Todd Dyer, general manager of Marshal Mize Ford, said its sales are up year over year, and he's surprised that new vehicle registrations are down countywide the first half of 2013.

"I'm shocked to hear they're off in the market," he said.

Some people remain in a buying mood.

Joe Fehring of Hixson said he bought a new Mitsubishi in February.

"I paid cash," he said, noting he'd been saving for a new vehicle and looking for the right one.

Today, automakers are expected to report a June increase from 6 percent to 8 percent over the same month in 2012, according to estimates.

Chrysler, Ford, Honda and Nissan all are forecast to report double-digit percentage sales gains over a year ago, according to TrueCar.com.

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