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Trea Watson, a sales associate at Economy Honda, looks onto the lot while waiting for a customer on Monday. New car sales are forecast to be up 14 percent in January over a year ago, according to USA Today.
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Village Volkswagen sales manager Ron Kwiatkowski talks about area car sales on Monday.

January sales

Truck and SUV sales, as shown below, are driving a jump in Hamilton County:
* 2015: 663
* 2014: 607
* 2013: 592
* 2012: 595
* 2011: 468
* 2010: 375
* 2009: 395
* 2008: 648
* 2007: 674
Source: Hamilton County Clerk's Office

Sales of new trucks and sport utility vehicles in Hamilton County sported their best January in eight years as low gas prices helped fuel the rally.

Despite gas costs at the pump rising every day for the past week, truck and SUV shoppers bought last month at a level not seen in the county since 2007, figures show.

Don Thomas, Mountain View Nissan's general manager, said Monday he's forecasting an eight to 10 percent jump in new vehicle sales at his dealership in 2015 over the prior year.

"For us to hit that goal, I don't think gas prices need to stay where they are, though I certainly would like them to," he said.

In Hamilton County, total sales of new SUVs and trucks jumped 9.2 percent in January over a year ago to 663 vehicles, according to registrations from the County Clerk's Office.

Sales of new cars fell slightly last month in the county compared to January 2014.

Overall, new vehicle sales rose nearly 4 percent to 1,125 units in the county last month versus a year ago.

Nationally, automakers today will report sales of new vehicles, and forecasters are projecting about a 14 percent rise last month over a year ago, according to USA Today. That increase would equate to an annual sales rate of some 16.6 million or 16.7 million vehicles.

Last year, automakers posted sales of 16.5 million vehicles, 5.9 percent higher than 2013, figures show.

Ron Kwiatkowski, Village Volkswagen's new-vehicle sales manager, said sales at his shop were flat in January, but the dealer is forecasting a small uptick in volume for the year.

"Traffic was good," he said. "January is a tougher month after the holidays."

Fuel prices

Chattanooga average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline:
* Monday: $1.93
* Month ago: $1.99
* Year ago: $3.05
Source: AAA

Kwiatkowski said VW is slated to deliver a refreshed Chattanooga-made Passat in 2015. Also, the 2015 Car of the Year Golf is expected to bolster activity, the sales manager said.

But, he said, the new midsize CrossBlue SUV that will be assembled in Chattanooga won't come off the line until late 2016.

"We've got to patiently wait on that," Kwiatkowski said.

Used vehicle sales in the county also were up, 11.5 percent higher in January than a year ago, according to the County Clerk's Office.

Holly Carroll of Chattanooga said Monday she recently purchased a used Honda Accord.

"I just needed one," she said, adding she picked an Accord because "that's what I've always had."

Vehicle sales rose in the county as gas prices stayed historically low despite a recent uptick.

The American Automobile Association reported that average gas prices nationally increased for the last seven days and likely will keep rising. That comes after a 123-day period of drops, according to AAA.

Refinery issues and more stable crude oil costs are pressuring prices upward, AAA said. Refineries begin an annual maintenance season, which typically cuts production and accounts for a slight bump in prices.

Customers should expect pump prices to increase between 30 cents and 50 cents per gallon between early February and the middle of spring.

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

Lowest Gas Prices in Chattanooga
Chattanooga Gas Prices provided by GasBuddy.com
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