Trucks driving auto sales

Local auto dealers are off to a good start in 2013.

Nationally, General Motors, Toyota, Ford and most other automakers posted at least modest sales gains for February. Of the major automakers, Nissan and Honda were down.

GM sales rose 7 percent, its best showing since February of 2008.

Both January and February were good months at Dean Patterson Chevrolet Cadillac Mazda Hyundai, Altoona.

“We were up about 12 percent on Chevys. We are off to a real good year,” said Tim Edmundson, sales manager.

Sales also are up at Zeigler Chevrolet, Claysburg.

“We had a phenomenal year last year. The weather was gorgeous, and we have maintained it this year,” said Dan Cobaugh, general sales manager.

Both Edmundson and Cobaugh said Chevy Silverados are their biggest sellers.

Ford reported overall sales increased 9 percent with its F-Series pickups up 15 percent. The company also posted record February totals for the Escape sport utility vehicle and Fusion sedan. Fusion sales were up 28 percent and Escape sales rose 29 percent.

“Our Ford sales were probably up 15 to 20 percent. We had a good truck month. The new Fusions and Escapes are selling because they are vehicles that get good gas mileage,” said Bob Bradley, sales manager at Courtesy Ford Kia, Altoona.

“We are close to [9 percent] or slightly ahead. It was a good month. People are showing more interest than they did through the fourth quarter [of 2012],” said Matt Stuckey, president of Stuckey Ford, Hollidaysburg.

Sales for Chrysler, which reported a 21 percent sales increase for all of 2012, were up 4 percent over a year earlier.

Chrysler sales were up about 5 percent at Courtesy Dodge Chrysler Jeep Nissan, Altoona, said sales manager Jim Hetrick.

Volkswagen sales were up 3 percent. VW reported its best February since 1973, but sales were far off the pace of VW’s 31 percent increase last year.

February was a “fantastic month” at Volkswagen State College, said general manager Jeff Irwin.

“We went from 16 units in 2012 to 23 units in 2013 [a 43.8 percent increase],” Irwin said. “Our biggest seller is the Jetta. Without a doubt it is our bread and butter car. The Passat and new Beetle also are doing well.”

Toyota sales were up just over 4 percent, boosted by sales of the RAV4 small SUV and Avalon large car.

February sales were up “a little bit” at Joel Confer Toyota, State College.

“As long as we don’t go backward we are fine. We are off to a good start for March. I have high hopes and expectations for March,” said Alan Hall, sales manager. “We are selling a lot of the Prius models and a number of new RAV4s. They are very popular. The Camry is still our mainstay.”

On the down side, Nissan sales nationally were off almost 7 percent from a record February 2012, but that hasn’t been the case locally.

“Our sales are not off at all. Our Nissan sales are probably up 1 or 2 percent,” Hetrick said. “Our showroom traffic is up from last year for both Chrysler and Nissan.”

Nationwide, Honda sales dropped 2 percent but Blair Honda, Altoona, has been very busy.

“Our sales were up 124 percent over last February. That is a significant percentage increase,” said Eric Noll, sales manager. “We are selling the new Accord; the CRV, a small crossover SUV, has been red hot; and the new Civic. These three products are carrying the weight.”

Higher gasoline prices – up 40 cents since the beginning of January – don’t appear to be hurting local sales.

“We have seen a run on Tundra full-size pickup trucks. Gasoline is nearing $4 a gallon and full-size pickup trucks are selling. Go figure,” Hall said. “It is dependent on customers’ needs. If you have a trailer to tow, you are not going to pull it with a Prius.”

Dealers cite different reasons for the increase in sales.

“I think [people] have more faith in the economy right now. The new vehicles have good incentives and used cars are worth top dollar. That is like the perfect storm – to get top dollar for used ones and great incentives on new ones,” Edmundson said.

“People have been putting off buying and eventually you have to replace that car. It has become expensive to keep making repairs. The interest rates are low and lenders have loosened up,” Hetrick said.

Stuckey said the increase in sales is driven by low interest rates.

“People who held off buying a car are starting to catch up. The low interest rates and the cool technology in today’s cars are helping,” Stuckey said. “You can get a new car for about the same as you would pay for a used car.”

Irwin also said there is a lot of pent up demand.

“In Centre County our unemployment rate is the lowest in the state and people have jobs and have money. Our economy is a little stronger than the rest of the state,” Irwin said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467. The Associated Press contributed to this story.