Tuesday, February 9, 1999

Hawaii auto
sales sputtered
in 1998

Purchases of imports were up just 3.8% while
domestic buying
plunged 12.6%

Star-Bulletin staff


Hawaii automobile dealers sold 1,814 fewer new vehicles in 1998 than in the previous year, a 4.3 percent drop, as the state's slow economy has car owners hanging on to their vehicles longer.

While sales of imports were up, it was not enough to cover a sharp decline in U.S. domestic vehicle sales, according to the Hawaii Automotive Dealers Association's latest figures.

A total of 40,673 new cars and trucks were sold on a retail basis last year, down from 42,487 in 1997.

Last year's decline followed a 2.4 percent increase in 1997, when about 1,000 more new vehicles were sold than in 1996.


"In 1997, sales got better for each quarter, from the first to the fourth, but (in 1998) sales were steady at about 10,000 for each quarter. It was a flat year" said Eric Miyasaki, chief executive officer of Nissan Motor Corp. in Hawaii, which compiled the figures for the dealers' association.

Miyasaki said companies with new models did benefit last year.

He also noted that fleet car sales were up 15 percent, reflecting the increase in mainland tourists who wanted rental cars.

About 10 years ago, annual vehicle sales in Hawaii peaked at about 55,000, and ever since they have been down to about 40,000, Miyasaki said.

He expects 1999 vehicles sales to bounce back, up 3 or 4 percent.

"The used car market has been strong, and people have been hanging on to their cars longer," Miyasaki said. "There is some pent-up demand for new vehicles."

New car sales accounted for 32,937 of the 1998 retail total, down 5.3 percent from 1997's 34,858. Truck sales hit 7,736, a 1.4 percent increase from the 7,629 in 1997.

Sales of U.S-made cars and trucks were down 12.6 percent to 18,294 from 20,924 in 1997.

Import retail sales hit 22,379, a 3.8 percent increase from the 21,563 in 1997.

For the fourth quarter, local car dealers sold 10,013 vehicles, a drop of 11.0 percent from the 11,286 a year ago.

Domestic vehicle sales accounted for the biggest part of this fourth-quarter decline. Only 4,262 domestic vehicles were sold in the quarter, a drop of 21.5 percent from the 5,431 vehicles sold in 1997.

On the positive side, fourth-quarter imported truck sales increased by 20.0 percent to 653 from 544 in the fourth quarter 1997.

Ford continues to record strong sales in trucks, said Mike McKenna, president of Mike McKenna's Windward Ford and Windward Volkswagen/Mazda. He said trucks are 78 percent of his business.

"The perception is that trucks are a safer vehicle," McKenna said. "They are higher up and you have better vision."

McKenna also said he has seen a shift to the import business, which for his company is up 50 percent.

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