Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Vermont auto dealers experienced an overall surge in new vehicle sales last year. Shown is Cody Chevrolet on the Barre-Montpelier Road.
Vermonters purchased 36,011 new cars and light trucks in 2012, an increase of 7.8 percent from the previous year, according to the Vermont Vehicle and Automotive Distributors Association.
Nationally, new car and light truck sales increased 13 percent to 14.5 million vehicles last year.
New car and truck sales have shown a steady improvement since the 2008 financial collapse. The uptick in new vehicle sales last year continues to be driven by pent-up demand, said Marilyn Miller, VADA’s executive director.
“I think people had been holding off purchasing a new vehicle and I think last year they started to feel a little more confident,” Miller said.
She said promotions offered by automakers, including low financing rates, also contributed to the boost in sales.
In Vermont, the Toyota/Scion brand once again led the way with 6,411 vehicles sold, a jump of 19 percent over 2011; Ford was a distant second with 4,441, a 4 percent increase; Subaru was third with 4,110 vehicle sales, jumping 22 percent; sales of Chevrolets totaled 3,653, a 7 percent decline from 2011.
Overall, Japanese new car sales in Vermont totaled 16,472; U.S. brands totaled 14,182 vehicles; European brands sold 3,022 vehicles while Korean car makers sold 2,335 vehicles.
Of the exotic luxury brands, one new Jaguar and 19 Porsches were registered in the state last year.
Although Japanese car makers continue to outsell Detroit’s Big Three, Miller said U.S. automakers are “really making significant strides” in improved quality and that’s reflected in the sales figures, which she said is encouraging.
At Town & Country Honda in Berlin, sales last year were down a bit from the prior year, said Eric Bashaw, the dealership’s new car manager.
He said that was surprising because the dealership expected to see another increase in sales following 2011, when he said the dealership had the “best year ever” despite the challenges the state faced in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.
Bashaw said the Honda CRV and Civic continue to be the most popular models.
Overall, Honda dealers in the state sold 3,190 vehicles, an increase of 4 percent from 2011.
At Brileya Chrysler Jeep in Rutland, new car sales last year were up approximately 5 percent over 2011.
Scott Brileya said his numbers would have been even better if he had more inventory of his two big sellers: the Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee.
On the Chrysler side, he said the Town & Country van is his “bread and butter.”
Chevrolet car sales at Hand Motors were flat last year while truck sales were down slightly, said John Hand, who has owned the Manchester dealership for 41 years.
“The segment of that business which is lagging for us is the truck business, which I think is a sign of the economic health of the truck buyer in Vermont,” Hand said.
As far as the Volkswagen brand goes, Hand said VW sales at his dealership shot up 27 percent in 2012.
Sales of hybrid and electric vehicles continue to make up a small percentage of overall sales. Last year, the market share of all alternative powertrain vehicle sales (including hybrids and plug-ins) in Vermont increased to 3.5 percent from 2.1 percent in 2011.
According to the Vermont Energy Investment Corp., as of Jan. 2, there were 188 electric cars registered in 84 towns throughout the state.
Nationwide, consumers last year purchased 12,165 electric vehicles and 38,585 plug-in hybrids.
Hand sold four Chevrolet Volts last year, a $40,000 plug-in hybrid that he said is not really suited for Vermont given its geography and its residents’ driving habits.
“The nature and full impact of the electric configuration is marginal distances … before recharge,” he said.
Looking ahead, the National Automobile Dealers Association is forecasting new vehicle sales this year to increase 3.5 percent to 10 percent, or as many as 16 million vehicles.
Brileya said he expects sales to increase again this year in part because of what he’s taking for trade-ins.
“On half of them, I don’t want to say they’re throw-away vehicles, but 200,000 miles …” Brileya said. “I think there’s a little pent-up demand.”
Because the Vermont data reflects registrations, some vehicles may have been purchased out of state and registered in Vermont. The data is compiled by Experian Automotive.
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