California auto dealers, who endured a punishing sales slump during the recession, had reason to celebrate on Wednesday.
A new report from the Sacramento-based California New Car Dealers Association said there were more than 425,000 new-car registrations in this year’s first quarter – up 5.4 percent from last year – and projected that 2014 new-vehicle registrations would hit nearly 1.8 million by year’s end. That includes fleet transactions.
Brian Maas, CNCDA president, noted that it marked the 14th consecutive quarterly increase. And while 1.8 million new-vehicle sales would fall well short of the all-time record of 2.15 million rung up in 2005, CNCDA said it would represent a return to pre-recession levels.
“We look at 2008-2009 as the down time, the worst in the recession,” said CNCDA spokesperson Kim McPhaul.
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By comparison, 2009 statewide car sales totaled 1.03 million, the lowest sales volume since 1975. That came on the heels of new-car sales plunging from 1.88 million in 2007 to 1.44 million in 2008. In 2008, more than a dozen Sacramento-area dealerships closed amid tight credit and widespread economic struggles.
Rick Niello, president of the Sacramento-based Niello Co., said the latest statewide figures dovetail with what he’s seen at his auto-selling operations, which include more than a dozen mostly high-end dealerships in Northern California.
“We’re seeing new-car sales up pretty much across the board … so we’re very happy with that,” he said. “And keep in mind that we’re a company that does not have any pickup truck sales, which is a very popular segment.”
Niello said there is lingering “pent-up demand” for new vehicles, citing multiple studies that show the average age of autos on U.S. roadways “is now the oldest it has ever been. … I think there’s still pent-up demand out there, and we’ll continue to see that.”
While auto industry experts have cited a recovering economy as helping spur new-car purchases, Niello believes that consumers “are still being really cautious with their money” in the aftermath of the recession.
In CNCDA’s latest report, Toyota retained its substantial lead in statewide market share, accounting for 21.5 percent of new-vehicle registrations in this year’s first quarter. Honda was second at 12.5 percent, followed by Ford with 10.9 percent.
The Honda Accord barely dethroned the Toyota Prius as the state’s best-selling motor vehicle in the first quarter, with 15,611 registrations. The Prius, which has consistently led statewide sales for two years, had 15,318 registrations in the quarter.