Hamilton County truck, SUV sales speed ahead in 2013

Hamilton County truck, SUV sales speed ahead in 2013

January 3rd, 2014 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks are seen on a dealer's lot in Troy, Mich., in this file photo.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

DRIVING LARGE

Registered sales of new trucks and SUVs in Hamilton County peaked in 2004 and then fell in half over the next three years before rebounding after the recession.

* 2013 - 6,523

* 2012 - 6,429

* 2011 - 5,834

* 2010 - 5,070

* 2009 - 3,908

* 2008 - 5,950

* 2007 - 7,700

* 2006 - 7,441

* 2005- 8,678

* 2004 - 9,156

Source: Number of trucks registered at the Hamilton County Clerk's Office

Sales of new trucks and sport utility vehicles in Hamilton County swelled to their highest mark in six years in 2013.

"As long as gas is around $3 a gallon, we'll choose an SUV to haul our kids around," said Ed Emerson, Capital Toyota's new car sales manager. "That's typical of the American people."

New light truck and SUV registrations in Hamilton County grew nearly 1.5 percent last year over 2012 to 6,523 vehicles, their best showing since 2007, according to the Clerk's Office.

But sales of new cars in the county fell 4.7 percent last year. That drop pulled down the total of new vehicles titled by 1.5 percent over 2012 to 12,200, figures show.

Still, dealers said the auto sales recovery from the Great Recession appears entrenched, with new vehicle registrations up 11.4 percent over the last two years in the county. Truck and SUV sales are 11.8 percent higher over the two-year period.

In Hamilton County, trucks continued to outsell cars.

Michael Atkins of Chattanooga said Thursday that the next vehicle he buys may be an SUV.

"The gas mileage they get is so much better (than in the past)," he said.

Atkins added, however, that with three children in college, he may delay the purchase until 2015.

Dwight Morgan, general manager of Integrity Chevrolet, said SUV fuel economy has improved and that's a key behind their sales.

He said that General Motors has new Tahoe and Suburban SUVs slated to hit the market this year, and their fuel usage numbers will show substantial improvement over the past.

"That's helping drive the increase you're seeing," Morgan said.

Ken Hunt, owner of Hunt Nissan, said 2013 was a record year overall for his Chattanooga dealership, and he sees new vehicle sales at his site up 10 percent in 2014.

The projected sales hikes are fueled by product and demand, he said.

"The need is there," Hunt said, adding that there's still room for improvement in the market. Auto sales haven't neared their pre-recession levels yet amid the slow-growing economy.

"I sense things will be good over the next three to four years," Hunt added.

Emerson said Capital Toyota had what he termed a "stellar" 2013 with the Japanese carmaker launching several new models.

"We had a lot of new product that hit the marketplace," he said.

Morgan said sales at his dealership were "substantially higher" in 2013, and he's optimistic about 2014 with GM's new products.

Today, U.S. automakers are slated to report December and year-end sales numbers. According to Forbes, total sales for 2013 are a shoo-in for the highest total in six years and a 50 percent improvement since bottoming out in 2009.

Analysts expect U.S. auto sales to keep growing in 2014 to around 16.2 million, an increase of about 4 percent, Forbes said.

J.D. Power and Associates predicted December sales would be around 1.4 million, about 4 percent higher than December 2012.

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