Vehicle sales up nationally, but fall in Hamilton County

Vehicle sales up nationally, but fall in Hamilton County

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

A new 2013 Passat sits in a bay at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

DIESEL SALES

Over 29 percent of all Passat sedans sold in the U.S. last month had diesel engines in the wake of higher fuel prices. Throughout VW's lineup, its diesel models accounted for 22.4 percent of sales in February, according to the automaker.

A month of soaring gas prices spurred car buyers to turn cautious and eye fuel-sipping vehicles in February as sales rose nationally but fell in Hamilton County over a year ago.

Volkswagen of America on Friday reported slower growth last month with sales climbing just 2.9 percent compared to eye-popping 2012 gains. Still, the German automaker posted its best February in the U.S. since 1973 with sales of 31,456 units.

Sales of the Chattanooga-made VW Passat made up nearly a quarter of the brand's results in the month, the company reported.

General Motors, with a plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., posted a 7 percent hike in February sales. But Nissan, with plants in Smyrna, Tenn., and Decherd, Tenn., reported a 6.6 percent drop.

In Hamilton County, new vehicles titled fell 7.9 percent in February compared to the same month in 2012.

Larry White, new car sales manager for Crown Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Chattanooga, said gas prices were on buyers' minds as they budgeted in the increases.

"When fuel prices are up, business on fuel efficient vehicles start to pick up," he said, adding that Crown had a solid month with sales higher for its Dodge Dart and smaller Fiats.

David Hicks, Capital Toyota's sales manager, said people were cautious and asked more about fuel mileage.

"It's one of those things where the price is where it's at - it's what they've got to live with," he said.

Hicks said he's optimistic about auto sales for the rest of 2013, adding that the economy and showroom traffic are improving.

Experts said February sales will probably rise about 7 percent and hit an annual rate of over 15 million. That's on pace for the best year of new car and truck sales since the recession.

Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for industry consulting firm LMC Automotive, told the Associated Press that sales probably hit an annual rate of 15.2 million in February, which is normally a lackluster sales month.

The TrueCar.com auto pricing site predicts 15.7 million, which would be the best February performance since 2007.

Sales are still short of the recent peak of near 17 million in 2005, but they're healthy now compared with the anemic 10.4 million recorded in 2009.

Most other automakers recorded sales increases in February. Ford's grew 9 percent while Chrysler sales were up 4 percent over a year earlier. Toyota sales were up over 4 percent as well.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.