Auto sales improving, still not good

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Used cars getting more attention

By Scotty McDaniel

Dealers are saying that the state of the auto industry has looked better in recent weeks, but they’re also saying that better doesn’t equal good with today’s economy.

“Business is really good, within consideration that times are really bad,” said Larry Pitts, Sales & Finance Director of O’Brien Ford Mercury of Shelbyville.

But even now it’s not all bad. Pitts said he looked at last year’s numbers from the time when Ford announced they were down around 40 percent in new cars. And despite those national struggles, Pitts said the local dealership isn’t doing too badly.

“This dealership is actually up 40 percent in new car sales this year compared to that time last year,” he said.

At Shelbyville Chrysler Dodge Jeep, Sales Manager Keith Johnson said sales are nowhere near where they were at this time last year, but at least they seem to be improving.

Johnson said incentives have been in place for the last 3 months to offer employee pricing on new vehicles.

Also appealing in today’s undulating economy are dealer programs such as the Hyundai Assurance, Ford Advantage and GM Total Confidence, which pay a car buyer’s payments for a certain period of time if he or she loses a job.

“Ford has rebates in a very large dollar amount on virtually every car that we have,” Pitts said.

Whatever the reason, people have been comfortable enough to shop for cars a bit more lately. In March, GM’s sales were up 23 percent from February, and Chrysler reported its highest single-month sales total in the last six months.

However, new vehicle sales in the U.S. are still down a whopping 38.4 percent compared to this period a year ago, Autodata Corp. reported.

Local dealers agree that though business may be improving, there’s still a large hole to climb out of.

“Our traffic count is up probably 50 percent over the last 3 months,” Johnson said. “But we still have a long road to haul.”


Used cars get jump start




Many people are trying to save money with a used-car purchase.

“We’re pretty much about 50-50 on new and used sales, which in the automobile industry is nirvana. That’s what a car dealer wants to do,” Pitts said of O’Brien Ford Mercury’s numbers.

The majority of customers at Shelbyville Chrysler Dodge Jeep are looking past new vehicles and are more inclined to spend a few thousand dollars on a used car, Johnson said.

On the other side of town Mike Williams saw the community’s want of used vehicles and decided now was the time to open up shop.

“People will still need cars, they’re just not buying the new stuff,” said Williams, who owns a new business called AutoWise.

There will be a grand opening on May 8-10, but the facility already is open to customers. AutoWise is located inside the building that was once home to AutoPointe on Boone Station Road.

“I’ve lived here for a long time, and I’ve been in the car business for 20-plus years, and this was an absolutely perfect location,” he said.

The auto industry’s struggles have been in the headlines for some time now, but the used car business is fairly stable, Williams said. And with everybody down, he saw a good opportunity to start his own business.

“If you’re going to get in the business, why not get in at the bottom when everybody’s trying to build up? Now is the time. You have to go against the grain,” he said.

What will it take to turn it all around?

Williams said auto sales would likely improve locally if people had the job security they once did.

“There’s potential that if they [local factories] could pick up and we could stop losing jobs, that would turn the auto industry in Shelbyville around,” he said. “It’s all how people perceive they will be a year from now. If the perception is they won’t have a job, they won’t spend a lot of money.”

A lot of dealers have shaken out and closed because of low sales. But here recently, business is up compared to where it was 3-5 months ago at Shelbyville Chrysler Dodge Jeep, Johnson said.

And though it won’t be easy he said the automobile will bounce back.

“Don’t panic. In the '80s they predicted the same thing [that the industry would crash]. Guess what, it didn’t. America’s workforce is resilient.

“The auto manufacturers will stay in business. The warranties will be covered,” he said.