AUTOMOBILES : Californians Whine, Pass Grey Poupon : Spending: Despite all the bad-mouthing of the economy, luxury cars are hot sellers in Southland.


Recession-battered Southern Californians have been telling pollsters for four years now that they are financially pinched and not expecting things to get much better.

But a stubborn pocket of affluence persists. And it is spending big bucks.

Despite bad-mouthing the economy for pollsters, Southern Californians continued to buy expensive cars at an impressive pace in 1994, according to the industry journal Automotive News.

The country's biggest Rolls-Royce dealer, Paulson Rolls-Royce in Beverly Hills, sold 30 of Britain's best last year, according to Automotive News. And Newport Rolls-Royce in Newport Beach was the nation's fifth-largest Rolls dealer, selling 18 of the hand-built luxury cars.

And how about Mercedes-Benz, the high-end German import? A pair of Orange County dealerships finished one-two in the rankings: House of Imports in Buena Park and Fletcher Jones Motor Cars in Newport Beach reported selling a combined 2,667 new Mercedes. Downtown L.A. Motors was the sixth-largest Mercedes dealer last year.

And if it seems that every other car on the road is a BMW, maybe it's because three of that German car maker's Top 10 dealers are in Southern California: Crevier BMW in Santa Ana ranked third with 905 new cars sold; Nick Alexander Imports in Los Angeles was seventh with 858, and Pacific BMW in Glendale was 10th with 819.

Automotive News' annual ranking of the 10 top dealers for each of the 36 makes of cars sold in the United States last year put Southern California at the top of the heap: 39 of the 360 largest volume dealers were found in three Southland counties: Los Angeles led the pack with 32, Orange County had five, and San Diego had two.

Other luxury cars with Top 10 dealers in Southern California included Jaguar, Land Rover and Porsche, with two dealers each, and Cadillac and Lexus, with one apiece.

"Our perceptions lag reality, often by a pretty good stretch of time," said Adrian Sanchez, regional economist for First Interstate Bancorp in Los Angeles.

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