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[January 04, 2013]
NJ new car sales grew, but not as fast as U.S.
Jan 04, 2013 (The Record (Hackensack - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- New Jersey auto dealers said Thursday that their 2012 new car and light truck sales increased an estimated 5.6 percent, trailing U.S. sales expected to climb by an impressive 13 percent.
The numbers are "consistent with what we know about the state's economy," said economist Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors. "It is getting better, but it's clearly lagging the nation." U.S. sales of new cars and trucks for the year should total around 14.5 million, almost 40 percent higher than 2009, when the economy tanked and sales hit their lowest level in nearly three decades.
James Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, said the state's dealerships' comparatively slow sales growth over the past year was mainly because the rest of the country had more catching up to do.
"When you look at the slide in 2008 and 2009, New Jersey did not go down as far or as hard as the rest of the nation, and we started climbing back sooner," he said.
In 2010, while New Jersey sales began a strong rebound, rising 13 percent, U.S. sales eked out a more modest gain of 7 percent, he said.
Appleton said New Jersey dealers' December sales were up about 11.5 percent, as people replaced some of the tens of thousands of vehicles damaged during superstorm Sandy. "It was a strong finish to the year," he said.
All in all, auto sales have been a hopeful sign in a tepid economic recovery and "a bright spot in the tremulous global environment," said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, a Detroit-area industry forecasting firm.
Last year unemployment eased, the housing industry started to recover and people felt a bit more confident in the economy. Interest rates also stayed low and banks made loans available to more customers, even those with poor credit. People began to replace aging vehicles that they'd owned since before the recession. The average age of a vehicle in the U.S. grew to a record 11.2 years.
Chrysler, the first automaker to report year-end performance, said Thursday its sales jumped 21 percent last year, the manufacturer's strongest showing since 2007. For December, Chrysler's sales rose 10 percent to 152,367 cars and trucks, led by the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, Ram pickup and Chrysler 300 luxury car.
"Our growth was not that robust, but we definitely are riding that wave," said Rick Schwartz, manager of Ramsey Auto Group's Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership on Route 17 south in Ramsey. Schwartz said he had not yet calculated his shop's year-end figures, but "business was good," he said.
Rising U.S. auto sales came even with uncertainty about the so-called fiscal cliff -- the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that would have slowed the economy.
In 2012, sales of Japanese brand cars rebounded in the U.S. Customers could choose from more Honda and Toyota models because the companies recovered from a 2011 earthquake and had enough vehicles stocked at dealerships for nearly the whole year.
Honda, which has been pushing its updated 2013 Accord, was expected to lead all manufacturers in December with a 32 percent rise in sales from a year earlier.
Volkswagen also was expected to post big numbers, up 29 percent, according to the TrueCar.com auto pricing website. General Motors' sales were forecast to rise just 1 percent, lagging behind industry growth as they have for most of the year.
December featured year-end deals on big pickup trucks; GM offered discounts of up to $9,000 to help clear growing inventory.
Overall, though, analysts said the industry eased up on promotions such as rebates and low-interest financing. Car and truck buyers paid an average of $31,228 per vehicle last month, up 1.8 percent from December 2011.
The Polk auto research firm predicted even stronger U.S. sales for 2013, forecasting 15.3 million as the economy continues to improve. Polk, based in Southfield, Mich., expects 43 new models to be introduced, up 50 percent from last year. New models usually boost sales.
The firm also predicts a rebound in sales of large pickups and midsize cars. All eight of the top manufacturers are strong and introducing new vehicles, and that should bring competition and lower prices in those segments, according to Tom Libby, lead North American analyst for Polk.
But the firm's optimistic forecasts hinge on Washington reaching an agreement on government debt limits and spending cuts.
This article contains material from The Associated Press.
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