published Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

Hamilton County auto sales higher amid shaky jobs report

New Ford F150 trucks sit on the lot for sale Mountain View Ford Lincoln Mercury.
New Ford F150 trucks sit on the lot for sale Mountain View Ford Lincoln Mercury.

HAMILTON SALES

New vehicle registrations in Hamilton County rose 11.1 percent in May versus the same month a year ago. May sales in 2012 were the best since 2008:

2012 - 1,069

2011 - 962

2010 - 834

2009 - 578

2008 - 1,373

Source: Hamilton County Clerk's Office

Tammy Burke, with a baby on the way and two children already at home, has been unemployed since November.

So when it comes to buying a new car, the economy definitely is a factor, the Chattanooga woman said Friday.

"My husband is the only one working," Burke said. "It's hard raising three kids on one salary."

Auto sales nationally continued to rise in May, though the increase was less than some analysts had projected.

"Today's somewhat dismal jobs report and today's auto sales numbers, which are coming in lower than expected so far, are causing fear that once more the economy is slowing," Edmunds.com Chief Economist Lacey Plache said in a statement.

In Hamilton County, new vehicle registrations, which closely track sales, were up 11.1 percent in May over the same month last year to 1,069 cars and trucks, according to the Clerk's Office.

While that's down from April, that month had been the best locally in nearly four years.

Auto sales have been one of the bright spots in the economy so far this year.

Volkswagen Group of America chief Jonathan Browning said Friday that the auto recovery is ongoing, and he's forecasting it to continue.

VW on Friday posted sales numbers that jumped 28.4 percent in May over a year ago, or twice the overall increase in the U.S. auto market.

The Chattanooga-made Passat topped the 10,000 mark for the third consecutive month. VW sold 10,178 Passats in May, the company reported in a news release, setting another all-time high mark for the Passat sedan.

Overall, the German automaker sold 38,657 units in the month, its best May since 1973, the automaker said. For the year, VW's U.S. sales are up 35 percent, Browning said in a conference call with analysts and reporters.

Frank Trivieri, VW of America's vice president of sales, said the car company is seeing higher sales in all five of its regions nationally.

"Growth isn't just in the Passat," he said. "Other vehicle lines are participating in growth."

At the same time, Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. posted weaker-than-expected sales in May, according to Reuters. Ford Motor Co.'s numbers fell short of what Barclays and Edmunds.com had forecast. Honda, Nissan and Ford's sales rose 48 percent, 21 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

General Motors' sales rose 11 percent, while those at Chrysler and Toyota rose 30 percent and 87 percent, respectively, Reuters said.

Auto forecaster LMC Automotive raised its 2012 projection to 14.5 million, up from 14.3 million, according to the Associated Press.

Jeff Schuster, LMC's senior vice president of forecasting, said sales still haven't recovered as quickly as they historically have after recessions. However, he told the AP, U.S. automakers now can break even when sales are in the 10 million range because they downsized dramatically during the recession. And with the pace of sales running at 14 million since the beginning of the year, profits have been strong.

"As long as there isn't a shock or a further deterioration of the economy on a broader scale, I think auto sales can power through right now," he said.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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