Car sales on the rise

If anyone is pleased with the lukewarm national retail sales figures for July, it is probably auto dealers.

Car sales represent the brightest spot in the Department of Commerce figures released Aug. 13, which overall showed a 0.4% gain in retail and food spending over the previous month. But auto sales were up nearly 9% from July 2009 and 1.7% from June.

"It is better news," said Jeanne Brewer, owner of Acura of Glendale. "We're seeing a little increase over what we were doing last year. The good news is we're also starting to see a few more people out into the marketplace, making decisions to repair their vehicles."

At Star Auto Group on Brand Boulevard, sales of Mazdas were up 67% compared with the same period last year. Sales at the group's Ford unit were up at least 21%, said owner Steve Bussjaeger.

"We are selling more cars and trucks, no question," he said.

Buyers remain mileage-conscious, with makes such as the Ford Fusion and Focus leading the charge, he added.

But Bussjaeger saw reasons for caution, as well.

The relatively large increases in sales mask what was "a very deep low" last year.

"The auto sector probably got hit harder and were down further than everybody, so it doesn't surprise me that we are up," he said.

The Brand Boulevard of Cars is an especially important source of sales tax revenue for the city, so any recovery there would affect city coffers.

The uptick in sales was stronger earlier in 2010, with sales flattening out in summer. Department of Commerce statistics show car sales up overall in July compared with June, but that was after a slowdown compared with May.

Comparisons with last year will grow tougher next month, when the federal cash-for-clunkers program was at full throttle last year.

Brewer and Bussjaeger said the business continues to experience a hangover from the credit crunch, with some car buyers returning autos to the lots to be repossessed by lenders.

"That never used to happen at all until about a year-and-a-half ago," Brewer said. "

Still, bright spots in the entertainment and film production industries in terms of job recovery has had a noticeable effect on business, she added.

"Fifty percent of our business comes from people in the entertainment industry, which creates a lot of jobs in our area," Brewer said. "A few more projects are getting funded, and we're starting to see that population come back into the dealership, which has really been terrific."

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