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economy in recovery:

Car dealers throughout the state have noticed an uptick in sales this year

by: JASON CHANEY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Vehicle sales for dealerships throughout Oregon, including Robberson Ford in Prineville, have improved considerably during the past year.

When the recession first hit, the automobile industry took a substantial hit.
   Major vehicle manufacturers fell on hard financial times, and car sales suffered.
   However, during the past year, Oregon vehicle sales have begun to turn around.
   According to statewide data compiled by the Oregon Automobile Dealers Association, the state saw 9.4 percent more new vehicle registrations in the first quarter of 2012 than in quarter one of 2011.
   The news gets better locally. The Central Oregon region has outpaced other regions in the state, with dealers selling 10.4 percent more automobiles in the first three months of 2012 than in the same time period last year.
   “The market is definitely strengthening,” said Robberson Ford president Jeff Robberson. He declined to provide specific numbers regarding sales at the Bend and Prineville dealerships, but said both have shown recent improvement.
   The Gary Gruner Chevrolet, Buick, GMC dealership in Madras has encountered the same uptick in sales.
   “It has been on a steady incline for the past two years,” said dealership president Gary Gruner. “This year continues to get better and better.”
   According to Greg Remensperger, executive vice-president of the Oregon Automobile Dealers Association, people seem more willing to purchase a vehicle because of a sense that the economy is recovering.
   “That overarching fear of have we hit bottom and have we seen the worst of the worst is not as big of a concern to everybody as it was before,” he said.
   Robberson expressed a similar viewpoint.
   “A vehicle is your second-biggest purchase outside of a house, so people need to have some confidence that the economy is not going to falter,” he stated.
   While the prospect of an improving economy has likely prompted more vehicle sales, it isn’t the only reason more people are buying.
   “I think it’s the perfect storm,” Remensperger explained. “In the used-car market, there is just a lack of inventory out there (due to the reduced sales during the recession), which makes your trade-in much higher. With the industry starting to rebound, manufacturers all want to get the biggest piece of the pie they can get, so they are offering good incentives to buy right now.”
   Robberson added that the short supply of used cars has driven up their price. Consequently, the price gap between new and used cars has closed enough to encourage more people to buy new.
   “It’s a really interesting phenomenon,” he said, “because you couple the fact that the prices of used are really strong and the new vehicle typically has a lower interest rate, in the case of a payment buyer, it may be a very small step between new and used.”
   Gruner attributed the growth to the increased demand that the recession created. He noted that people held onto their vehicles longer than usual, due to the tough economic times and skyrocketing fuel prices, and are now ready to replace them.
   “I think that the automobile industry probably rebounded from the recession a little quicker than some of the other industries just because of the pent-up demand,” he said.
   Going forward, Robberson expects the recent growth to continue.
    “We are not going to see this explosive growth,” he said. “What I think we are going to see is a consistent growth in the industry.”