Car sales up, Janesville dealers say
How is the local economy doing?
The answers are as varied as the individuals queried.
But there are certain indicators that provide a snapshot of Rock County’s economic health. Are we spending money? Are we buying and selling homes and cars? Are we working, and have we staved off creditors?
On a quarterly basis, the Gazette will look at those indicators and see what’s happening. Perhaps those indicators will show trends that indicate an improvement in the local economy. Perhaps they won’t.
In most cases, our “Economic Dashboard” of indicators will accompany a story highlighting the indicator that seems to carry the most significance for that quarter.
JANESVILLE It shouldn’t come as a surprise that fewer new vehicles were registered in Rock County in last year’s fourth quarter than the quarter before.
It happens just about every year, when winter auto sales fall in comparison to those in the summer months.
But area car dealers are taking solace in knowing that fourth-quarter registrations were nearly 20 percent ahead of those for the same period in 2009. They’re also comforted by the fact that 2010 calendar year registrations were 5 percent ahead of 2009.
Those are trends they hope to carry into this year.
“We’re optimistic going forward,” said Dick Stockwell, president of Rock County Honda in Janesville. “I don’t think we’re coming out of things in a V-shaped recovery, but, so far in January, we’re already doing better than we did last January.”
Stockwell said his fourth-quarter Honda sales were up nearly 60 percent.
The folks across the street at Fagan Automotive have said the same thing: Sales improved in the latter part of 2010, and growing consumer confidence is pointing toward a better 2011.
Bob Clapper, Fagan’s vice president, said he’s seen an improvement in consumer attitudes.
Make no mistake, he said earlier this month, the area suffered from the closing of the local General Motors plant. But, he said, it’s starting to move on.
“They see that our community did not fail,” Clapper said. “There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but I think the worst is behind us.”
That appears to be showing—at least in a small way—in auto sales numbers.
Each year is different, said Stockwell, whose family has 70-plus years in the automobile business. In 2009, the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program helped manufacturers and dealers.
“December 2010 was a very good month for us, and, I believe, for dealers around the state,” he said. “The manufacturers were marketing quite heavily, and people responded.”
American Honda Motor Co. ended the year with a 7.6 percent increase in sales in 2010.
General Motors led domestic automakers with a 21 percent gain in 2010. The automaker sold more cars with its four remaining brands than it did with eight brands the year before.
Ford’s sales jumped 19.5 percent in 2010, while Chrysler’s increased 16.5 percent.
Toyota, which struggled with a massive recall in early 2010, was the only major automaker to report a sales decline for the year—5.9 percent.
Stockwell said his dealership is seeing a different sort of buyer, and that is contributing to increasing sales.
“Automobiles are devices that slowly wear out,” he said. “Some of the bump is due to the relative age of vehicles. Things wear out and people have to replace, and we’ve seen those people.
“But what we didn’t see last year that we’re seeing now is people trading in just because they want to. They’re just more comfortable in their own financial situation.”
Jim Peck of Tom Peck Ford in Clinton said he thinks consumers are motivated by better financial circumstances, including an improving stock market.
Peck said his dealership’s 2010 sales volume mirrored that of 2009, but his profit was up 40 percent.
“I cut costs and basically expensed my way out of it,” Peck said, adding that he’s not convinced the nails are poised on the recession’s coffin.
“I don’t set yearly forecasts,” he said. “I take things day by day. I get up every day and do my best. What more can you do?”