Local car dealerships have felt the economic pinch over the past few months, but are faring better than many dealerships across the nation that have had to close their doors.
Steve Easler, owner Mac Easler Ford, said he has seen a steady decrease in sales.
“The most drastic drop actually came this month,” he said. “The big problem is consumer confidence. Right now consumers are not sure if they will even have a job in the coming months, so they are sitting tight with what they have.”
Easler said that while sales are down, the amount of repairs performed by technicians has been good.
“People are still getting their cars serviced,” he said. “They are doing the routine maintenance, but that is about it. They are not getting any of the extra stuff done.”
While some people may turn to alternative-fuel cars and hybrid models, Easler said he has not been seeing that trend.
“Ford only has one hybrid vehicle,” he said. “The market has been really chaotic lately. In the past several months, people were jumping from the big cars to smaller models. Now with fuel going down, they are moving back to the bigger SUVs and trucks.”
Easler said they are selling more trucks and SUVs right now because the value of those vehicles has decreased.
“You can buy a $40,000 or $50,000 (truck or SUV) for $32,000 or $35,000,” he said.
The number of buyers who qualify for loans has remained about the same, Easler said.
“Unless they are marginal customers, they can get credit,” he said. “Ford has plenty of money to loan.”
If Hendersonville area dealerships are holding steady, they are bucking the trend.
New vehicle sales have slumped to a 25-year low, and the National Automobile Dealers Association estimates that 700 new car dealerships will close this year, after 430 shut down last year.
‘Sound business practice’
Chat Jones, owner of Jones Auto Sales on Asheville Highway, said his sales have dropped by 30 percent over the past three months.
“Part of the reason we have seen a dropoff is that new car dealers are not selling new cars, and we depend on those trade-ins,” he said. New car dealerships often sell trade-ins to used car dealerships.
Jones agreed with Easler that customers with good credit don’t have a problem getting loans.
“People with bad credit may have some trouble, but I have not generally had to deal with that,” he said.
When asked how he is driving in business, Jones said nothing has changed. “We don’t use games or gimmicks. I will never use those tactics. When we trade, we don’t charge any extra fees. We have been fortunate to always use a basic sound business practice.”
Christopher Thompson of Auto Advantage said car sales for his dealership have been static over the past several months.
“We have seen the opposite of what some dealerships have seen and are selling more trucks and SUVs,” he said. “Those are selling because of the reduction of fuel and reduction in value.”
Thompson said nothing has changed at Auto Advantage to pull in customers, that the used car dealership actually thrives in this kind of economic times.
When it comes to getting loans, Thompson said, “People that can afford cars and deserve loans have been getting the loans.”
He did acknowledge that banks are having trouble.
“That is causing people with bad credit to have a harder time getting loans,” he said. “But rates are lower than last year. The Feds have been dropping rates every quarter.”
Cliff Freeman, owner of Coleman/Freeman Auto Sales, said times have not been as tough as people have been led to believe. “I began experiencing the downturn in auto sales about two years ago,” he said. “Over the last six months I haven’t really seen a change in the market.”
Freeman agreed that people with good credit are still getting loans and those with blemished credit are having a hard time.
“We’ve also experienced a broad spectrum in auto sales,” he said. “There are still people buying cars that operate as more than a passenger vehicle. We are still selling trucks and SUVs.”