Buyers of new cars and trucks in Hamilton County steered sales to their best mark in five years in 2012, despite a fall-off in November and December.
Year-end figures show a 13.1 percent jump in new vehicles titled last year over 2011 to 12,386, according to the Hamilton County Clerk's Office.
Dealers expect the sales recovery to continue in 2013 as they try to return to prerecession levels in spite of political maneuvering in Washington, D.C., over spending cuts and taxes.
"The country seems determined to take the Band-Aid off a little bit at a time," said Joe Kirby, owner of Adventure Mazda in downtown Chattanooga.
Corey Choate, Economy Honda's general manager, said its new car and truck sales last year rose 30 percent and hit an all-time high for the store.
He said Economy Honda has gone to a new "true price system" that helped fuel sales.
"Pricing has gotten very competitive for new cars," Choate said.
Kirby, who also operates a Chevrolet, Chrysler, and Jeep dealership in Dalton, Ga., said better products helped push his sales last year and will in 2013.
He said the Mazda dealership exceeded last year's goals, and 2013 looks "extremely good."
Kirby said the Dalton dealership dealt with continued high joblessness in that market, but it performed well based on market conditions.
Still, the economy is weighing on the minds of consumers.
Chattanoogan Scott Riley said Wednesday he's not even considering buying a car this year given the slow-growth economy.
"I'm having to deal with what I've got," he said.
Tom Smith, of Pikeville, Tenn., said he just bought a Jeep Cherokee last year.
"Every four to five years, we trade," he said.
Automakers nationally release December and full-year sales for 2012 today, but an auto industry research firm said an improving economy and a host of new models should push U.S. sales above 15 million this year.
The Polk research firm predicts 15.3 million new vehicle registrations this year, up nearly 7 percent from 2012, according to The Associated Press. Analysts predict 2012 sales will come in around 14.5 million, the strongest year since 2007.
Polk said auto sales should continue to lead the country's economic recovery. It expects 43 new models to be introduced this year, up 50 percent from last year. New models usually boost sales. The company also projected a rebound in large pickup truck sales.
But the optimistic forecast hinges on Washington reaching agreement on spending cuts that could happen later in the year.
Neither Chattanooga auto dealer said they thought fiscal cliff concerns at the national level affected new vehicle sales last year.
Choate said used car buyers may have been influenced more by cliff discussions than people looking for a new vehicle. He added that Economy Honda's December sales were affected by fewer working days last month as to how the Christmas holiday fell over 2011.
Countywide, December auto registrations were off 4.3 percent from a year earlier.
Kirby said he didn't think the concern over an impending fight over raising the nation's debt limit will affect sales in the first quarter of 2013.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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 ...