In a sign that the auto industry is rebounding, or just that that recession has gone on so long, Whatcom County dealers are noticing a significant increase in new car sales.
Last month 364 new vehicles were sold locally, the highest monthly total since April 2011, according to the Dominion Cross-Sell Report, which gathers data from the Washington State Department of Licensing. It's a huge jump compared to August 2011, when 198 new vehicles were sold.
It's also shaping up to be a decent year for the dealerships: 2,356 new vehicles were in the first eight months of the year, a 7.4 percent increase compared to the same period last year.
While still not quite back to the pre-recession sales numbers, the recent totals represent a significant turnaround for one of the harder hit industries during the economic downturn. Several factors appear to be at work, including a little more confidence when it comes to making a big ticket purchase and the necessity of trading in old vehicles.
"We've seen more people trading in cars that have more than 150,000 miles on them than we have in quite some time," said Julian Greening, co-owner of Wilson Motors. "(Customers) have held onto their cars as long as they could until they absolutely needed a new car."
August was a very busy month for Wilson Motors, which sells Toyota and Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The company set several sales records in August, including Toyota sales. The dealership sold 191 new and used Toyotas, the highest monthly total since moving into its current facility four years ago. Wilson's service department also set a new monthly record, handling 2,000 appointments ranging from oil changes to engine repair.
For many dealers August is one of the busiest months of the year, typically when the current year models are being cleared out through sales to make way for the next batch of vehicles. August is also a popular month in Whatcom County because residents are thinking about whether their current car can make it through the upcoming winter, said Roger Jobs of Roger Jobs Motors. However, his dealership has posted increasing sales throughout the year compared to 2011.
"Part of our improvement this year is our manufacturers have come out with new cars that people want," said Jobs, whose dealership sells Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen vehicles.
Jobs' Iowa Street dealership is also making plans to expand its showroom and service areas to accommodate the new models. Jobs expects to break ground on the expansion project in the first quarter of 2013.
At Wilson Motors, the fuel-efficient Toyota Prius and Camry continue to be the top-selling models. Greening believes those two models are popular because gas prices continue to weigh on the minds of consumers.
"Typically you have a rise in gas prices in the spring and then it goes down, but there was no relief on gas prices this year," said Greening, noting prices around $4 a gallon tend to have drivers thinking more about fuel efficient vehicles.
According to the Cross-Sell Report, Wilson Motors has sold the most new vehicles in the first eight months of 2012, followed by Northwest Honda and Rairdon's Dodge Chrysler Jeep of Bellingham. In August the top-selling models locally were the Subaru Forester, Dodge Ram pickup truck, Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.