Driving sales – Auto dealers hope to ride momentum

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Riding the tide of strong automobile sales nationwide, auto dealers in Northeast Mississippi also saw a strong 2012.
U.S. sales last year rose 13 percent over 2011, the best showing in five years. Car and light truck sales in the U.S. rose nearly 10 percent in December, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts. That capped a third-straight annual gain of at least 10 percent, the first such industry streak since 1973.
And according to one auto data group, vehicle sales in Northeast Mississippi last year increased about 20 percent.
Among those seeing a nice bump in business was Dwayne Blackmon’s namesake Chevrolet dealership in Tupelo. Chevy, General Motors’ best-selling brand, saw total volume rise 4.3 percent across the country, making it GM’s biggest sales gainer in 2012.
“Last year was better than 2011, and we look forward to 2013,” Blackmon said.
While the Sonic compact, Malibu mid-size sedan and Equinox crossover were big sellers for Chevy, Blackmon said the Silverado pickup truck was also a top-seller.
“Trucks always sell well,” he said. “but the Cruze, Malibu and Equinox were big sellers, too,” he said.
Total U.S. auto sales for 2012 were 14.5 million, the industry’s best showing since 2007. During the peak of the Great Recession in 2009, sales dropped to 10.4 million, a 30-year low.
“We’ve turned that corner,” said Rudy Dossett III of Dossett Big 4 in Tupelo. Dossett’s dealership carries Buick, Cadillac, GMC and Honda.
Dossett said the Honda’s Accord, CR-V and Odyssey were top-sellers, while crossover vehicles like the Buick Enclave, Cadillac SRX and GMC Acadia did well.
But Dossett also said the new-car sales segment has been very competitive, with customers scouring every deal.
“There are so many new dealers out there in the market, they’ll go shop for another deal for $400 or $500,” he said.
Chrysler saw the biggest percentage increase of the Detroit Three automakers. The company’s sales rose 21 percent last year, led by sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ram pickup and Chrysler 300 sedan.
Hoyt Sheffield, whose Tupelo Auto Sales dealership carries the full Chrysler lineup, said 2012 was much like a roller coaster.
“We had some months that were among the best we’ve had in a long time, but we had some months that were slower than usual,” he said. “But overall, it was a good year for us.”
Auto industry analysts are expecting sales this year to reach more than 15 million. That’s still short of the pre-recession peak of 17 million reached eight years ago, but definitely at a level the industry can live with.
Larry Brymer, the general manager of Carlock Toyota in Tupelo, said the dealership also benefited from Toyota’s overall rebound nationwide. Toyota also is expected to retake the crown as the world’s top-selling automaker.
The Japanese automaker, which produces the Corolla compact in nearby Blue Springs, saw its sales 27 percent for 2012.
“Toyota is up, and we’re up,” Brymer said.
It was the same story at Larry Clark Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac in Amory, where sales manager Barrett Clark said used cars in particular sold well.
“We had a really good year overall, with used cars way up and new vehicles doing well, too,” he said.
Clark said truck sales have been the bread-and-butter of the business and 2012 was no different.
“We also sold a couple Volts,” he said, referring to Chevy’s all-electric car.
Joe Marshall’s Barnes Crossing Hyundai-Mazda dealership in Tupelo continued to see strong demand last year as well. Hyundai, which has been one of the hottest brands in the industry of late. Last year was the Korean automaker’s best year in the U.S.
But Marshall said almost all automobile brands have seen steady increases in recent years.
Marshall said overall sales in Northeast Mississippi have grown 25 percent to 30 percent since 2010, when he bought the dealership.
“I think pretty much everyone has benefitted,” he said.
dennis.seid@journalinc.com