More buying trucks as gas prices drop

Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Nancy Lavin, of Augusta, smiles for the camera Tuesday after purchasing a 2009 Honda CRV at Gerald Jones Honda. Trucks and SUVs are outselling cars for the first time since February.

With summer's soaring fuel costs a faint memory, some local car dealers are seeing an increase in SUV and truck purchases from customers lured in by discounts and low gas prices.

Nancy Lavin bought a 2009 Honda CR-V Tuesday, saying she needed a larger vehicle and the deals were unbeatable at Gerald Jones Honda.

"I probably would not have bought an SUV when gas was $4 a gallon," she said. "I think this was the right time to purchase it."

Gerald Jones General Manager Brian Winters said SUV and truck sales have increased 37 percent since September, when local gas prices were close to $4 a gallon.

Jessica Caldwell, an automobile industry analyst for edmunds.com, an auto consumer Web site, said business overall is still dismal -- sales of new vehicles in December were down 38.4 percent compared to December 2007 -- but truck and SUV sales have experienced an uptick nationwide.

SUV sales comprised 24.8 percent of all vehicles sold in August but dropped to 23.3 percent in October, shortly after gas prices reached their highest level nationally and locally, according to the Web site. In November, SUVs made up 25.9 percent of all vehicles sold.

Trucks and SUVs are outselling cars for the first time since February, Ms. Caldwell said. The larger vehicles are projected to comprise 51 percent of all vehicles sold in December, while cars will make up 49 percent.

Ms. Caldwell said lower gas prices and generous incentives are the main reasons for the increase in truck and SUV sales. That is good for dealers and manufacturers because the larger vehicles bring higher profits than other models, she added.

At Bobby Jones Ford Lincoln Mercury, truck and SUV sales dropped about 25 percent this summer but are now back to normal, said Jeff Broadwater, general sales manager.

"This is the best month we've had all year," Mr. Broadwater said of December sales. "We're excited to see the traffic come back in. I think the economy is coming back."

Adam Logeman, general manager of Gordon Chevrolet, said he has seen a similar trend at his dealership. Heavy truck and SUV sales have risen 50 percent since November, he said.

Customers are also buying more because credit is available, Mr. Logeman said.

"There was undoubtedly a credit tightening over the last eight to 12 months," he said. "Lenders are beginning to loosen up, which makes customers have an easier time getting a loan."

Ms. Caldwell said she expects sales to soon slow because January is typically a rough month for the industry.

"In the spring, we're hoping for more of a recovery," she said. "That's when we'll know whether it's going to be a better year or not."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

SALES ARE UP

Percentage of all vehicles sold since May:

MONTH - TRUCKS - SUVS

May - 12.4% - 21.9%

June - 12.3% - 22.3%

July - 14.4% - 22.1%

Aug. - 16.4% - 24.8%

Sept. - 16.5% - 23.9%

Oct. - 16.0% - 23.3%

Nov. - 16.5% - 25.9%

Source: edmunds.com