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Derek Bryson, of Cleveland, Tenn., said Monday he bought a new Ford F-150 truck even though he went to a Chattanooga dealership looking for a used pickup.

"Anything with decent miles on it that fit my needs was so expensive versus buying a new one with incentives," he said. "I feel I've gotten a much better deal."

Thousands of other consumers in the county clearly feel the same way.

The number of new cars and trucks titled in Hamilton County jumped 32 percent in October over the same month a year ago as the recovery in auto sales sped ahead, figures show.

Through October, new vehicles titled, which closely relates to sales, have climbed 20 percent over a year ago, according to the Hamilton County Clerk's Office.

While new auto sales still trail the banner times that dealerships recorded three, four or five years ago, the recovery appears well entrenched following the steep recession, reports indicate.

Hubert Copeland, of Hixson, said Monday he recently bought a new BMW for which he and his wife saved for two years.

"It's a car I loved," he said about the BMW 745Li. "We treated ourselves."

Chris Johnson, new car sales manager at Long of Chattanooga Mercedes-Benz, said the dealership had a better October than the sector as a whole. Sales were up about 40 percent versus a year ago, he said.

"People feel a little bit more secure about the economy," Johnson said. "We've had a lot of repeat customers as well."

Ken Hunt, owner of Hunt Nissan, said October was "a fair month," though it follows a record September in which sales leapt 270 percent.

He said September a year ago followed the hugely successful cash for clunkers month of August 2009. Analysts said cash for clunkers caused many people to buy ahead to take advantage of the federal trade-in program.

Hunt said that for 2010 so far, the dealership is "significantly up" over 2009.

He added that credit has loosened somewhat.

"It's more realistic," Hunt said. "We were getting too far the other direction."

used car prices

Also, auto shoppers such as Bryson are finding that many used vehicle prices are higher than last year. Auto analysts said the average price of used cars and trucks is up about 10 percent this year over last, partially because of tighter supply and higher demand.

In addition, cash for clunkers, designed to stimulate new vehicle sales, removed a lot of used cars from the market. The used cars had to be scrapped.

At the same time, the number of used vehicles titled in Hamilton County last month was up over a year ago, though not as much as new autos.

Used-vehicle registrations rose 5.8 percent in October, according to figures.

Concerning new vehicles, Johnson said he's expecting a challenging November but that December sales are usually "really good."

"The factory has put on some good [incentive] programs for us," he said.

Hunt thinks sales will be generally up in November and December.

For 2011, he said, he's projecting a 20 percent gain over this year.

Bryson, who bought his truck at Mountain View Ford, said he needs a pickup for work but not necessarily a new one.

"This is the only time I've ever seen this happen -- that it made more sense to purchase new than used," he said.

Contact staff writer Mike Pare at mpare@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6318.

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