Local dealerships are selling more cars and trucks, part of a national trend as more Americans replace their aging automobiles.
“Labor Day was the best holiday that I worked in the eight years in the auto business. We sold a bunch of vehicles, and we were only open from 9 to 3,” said Fran Adelizzi, sales manager at Kindle Auto Plaza in Cape May Court House.
On Tuesday, Detroit automakers Ford, Chrysler and General Motors reported U.S. sales in August rose 13 percent, 14 percent and 10 percent, respectively, compared with a year ago.
Honda and Toyota — which both had limited production last year following the Japanese tsunami — reported increases of 60 percent and 40 percent in August.
Nationally and statewide, the auto industry has been crawling back from the recession, which reduced the overall number of dealerships and their employees.
New Jersey’s new-car market regularly topped 500,000 sales annually before the recession, but fell to 340,000 in 2009, according to the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, a trade group.
President Jim Appleton said New Jersey new-car sales could reach 420,000 to 450,000 this year.
“I think people are feeling good enough, not great, about the economy that they’re willing to make an investment in a new vehicle, something they’ve been putting off for a while,” Appleton said.
“It’s a good market, it’s not great,” Appleton said. “Inventory is available and consumers are buying. A great market is when demand outstrips inventory, and we’re not there yet. Hopefully by 2013 or 2014, we’ll see those half-million units a year again.”
New-vehicle sales are often considered economic indicators — not necessarily of an improving economy but of consumer sentiment that buyers feel their jobs are secure and they can afford A large-ticket purchase.
“As sales pick up, manufacturers have to add shifts at plants, and there’s a trickle-down effect of supplies involved — all the levels of production, selling and marketing,” said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst with Kelly Blue Book.
Nationally, sales are on pace for 14.2 million new vehicles this year, about an 11 percent improvement from last year, Gutierrez said.
A recovering auto industry can have an effect on New Jersey employment.
The number of new-car dealers in the state fell from 711 in 2007 to 634 in 2010, an 11 percent decline, the U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns show. That reduced employment by nearly 6,000 jobs in that time period, data show.
“Dealers have cut way to the bone in terms of employment,” Appleton said.
That has begun to change as dealers are selling more cars and need more qualified sales representatives as well as mechanics, he said.
Adelizzi said the dealership usually runs at capacity for sales representatives.
“All the offices are usually filled. We try to keep a good amount of salesmen here,” he said.
The economy — or the perceptions of the economy — are not the only factors driving sales, Gutierrez said.
Manufacturer incentives have included offers from zero percent financing to $169-per-month leases, he said. Also, the average age of vehicles on the road is much higher.
Southfield, Mich.-based R.L. Polk & Co., an auto information company, says the average car and light truck on the road is almost 11 years old, nearly two years older than a decade ago.
“People delaying the purchase — the homeowner who took a hit in the real estate bubble burst or person who lost a job, or just got more conservative, people are getting to the point they can’t put their purchase off any more,” Gutierrez said.
At Shore Toyota, general manager Glenn Riedel said the Mays Landing dealership’s sales are up 10 percent for the year compared with last year.
He said high gasoline prices are driving some to Toyota’s fuel-efficient models. But he also indicated some recent economic developments — from the opening of the Revel casino to the announcement that Margaritaville would be coming to Resorts Casino Hotel — had an impact on consumer sentiment in the region.
“Atlantic City definitely helped us out with the opening of the Revel. It was more of the outlook of the buyer walking through the door,” he said.
Ronald Giampino, a retired piano teacher and performer living at a 55-and-older community in Galloway Township, took his 2005 Camry in for service at Shore Toyota on Tuesday afternoon and was browsing new cars.
Giampino said he is interested in a convertible but that the economy would have no impact on whether he buys a new car.
“We’re retired. We just hope the stock market goes up,” he said.
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