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As Economic Engine Revs Up, Car Buying Increases in County

New car sales, a key bellwether for the health of the economy, continued rising this year in San Diego and were on track to break last year’s record number of about 140,000, according to the New Car Dealers Association of San Diego County.

“Our prediction based on what we’ve seen so far this year is that we’ll be close to 150,000 this year,” said Dean Mansfield, president of the trade group that represents some 110 local dealers.

In its most recent report for April and May of this year, the group said car sales in the county rose 8.6 percent — to nearly 27,000 units — above the like period of 2013. For the first five months through May, new car sales totaled about 60,600 units, up 7 percent from the first five months of last year.

A similar surge in sales of vehicles is happening on the national level. Based on June sales, the revised forecast of new cars and light trucks sold this year for the United States is 16.9 million, up from 2013’s total of 15.5 million, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.

The last time the measure, called the seasonally adjusted annual rate, was that high was August 2005, NADA said.

Increased car sales in the county are further evidence that the local economy is recovering, said Alan Gin, an economics professor at the University of San Diego.

San Diego is on pace to add about 30,000 jobs this year, as the unemployment rate is dropping, Gin said.

“I expect it to be below 6 percent by the end of the year,” he said. “And when more people have jobs and incomes, they usually buy more stuff, and that includes cars.”

Toyota on Top

San Diego reflected a statewide buying trend toward Japanese-made vehicles, with those brands making up 51.5 percent of the total sold through May, up 1.4 percentage points from the like period of 2013.

Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) continued its local market dominance, with its brands capturing 23 percent of the market, although sales were about flat compared with the same month last year.

The next largest brand leader in the county was Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE: HMC), with nearly 12 percent of the market, although, that was down from a year earlier when it had 12.6 percent of the market.

The biggest gainer in local market share so far this year was Chrysler Group LLC, which increased its market share by nearly 1 percentage point to 6.5 percent.

The domestic car maker that had the biggest market share in San Diego as of May was Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), with its brands garnering 11.5 percent share. U.S. brands collectively held 25.5 percent of the local market, while European brands made up about 15 percent of the local market, and South Korean brands had about 8 percent, the car dealers’ report stated.

Vehicle Sales Having Impact

At Tipton Honda in El Cajon, sales year-to-date through June increased 9.7 percent, General Manager Joe DeLuca said, without revealing actual units sold.

Drew Davis, general manager of The Centre at Lexus Escondido, said Toyota’s luxury brand is doing “exceptionally well this year.”

For the first six months of this year, unit sales were up 35 percent compared with the first half of 2013, Davis said.

The Centre, which opened in late 2009, combines the Lexus dealership — occupying the entire first floor — with retail shops and the upscale Vintana Restaurant on the second and third floors.

The economic impact from retail car dealerships in San Diego is considerable, Mansfield said, citing data from the San Diego organization’s most recent annual report.

In all of last year, the local dealers sold about $9.5 billion in new and used vehicles, and employed nearly 13,000 full-time and 812 part-time employees, the report said.


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