Carmageddon, interrupted 

Life on the lot ain’t as bad as you might think.

click to enlarge KNOW YOUR WHEELS: You'll be much happier, Chris Brown says.
  • KNOW YOUR WHEELS: You'll be much happier, Chris Brown says.

If you haven't noticed, the last few months haven't been fun for those in the car business. Still, talking to folks who work at our winners for Best Service and Best Dealership — Bale Honda and Landers Toyota, respectively — is enough to make a person think we might be seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel.

Scott Young, the sales manager at Landers Toyota, said that business at the three-year-old dealership has so far been a “rosebud” in a hard economy. In June, the lot sold 500 cars. At this writing, they're number 40 in Toyota sales in the U.S., and number five in sales of Toyota Tundras, the brand's midsize truck.

Though the distribution between new car and used car sales is different, Landers Toyota sold more cars in May of this year than they did a year ago. “Instead of selling 350 new cars, like we did in May of 2008,” Young said, “we sold 250 new cars. But we actually sold more cars overall in May 2009, because we sold more used cars.  It's having the right mix and having what people want to buy.”  In addition to more people buying used cars, the dealership has seen a spike in the number of people getting their cars serviced there, with drivers looking to squeeze a few more miles out of their ride before trading in, Young said. 

Across town at Bale Honda, the news is a similar bright spot. Sales are down 31 percent from the same time last year, but general sales manager Chris Brown said that those numbers are misleading “Last year, gas was four dollars a gallon, and people were coming out of those big heavy rigs like crazy and into smaller cars,” Brown said. “We're probably only down about 10 to 15 percent realistically.” Brown said that Honda doesn't seem to have been impacted as badly as domestic car dealers like Ford, Chrysler and GM. Brown contends that most of the downturn for domestic brands has been driven by bad press and misconceptions.

 “I think the consumer is misled about what is really going on … Every time you turn on Fox News, that's all their reporting: they're going under, they're going under, they're going under. That scares a lot of people away,” Brown said.

Brown and Young said that the government's new “Cash for Clunkers” program, which provides up to $4,500 to car buyers if they'll trade in older, gas-guzzling cars for something more fuel-efficient, is likely to benefit Honda and Toyota.

Brown said car buyers in a slow economy need to do their homework and make sure that the car they're buying is really what they want.

“Everybody is going to give you a deal,” Brown said. “Don't worry about that. But what I worry about is somebody buying something that they're not going to be happy with six months down the line and try to trade it. Then they find out they might not be able to because of negative equity. Do your research and make sure you'll be happy with the car.”



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