But despite a 1.2% first-quarterStar-Bulletin staff
drop, dealers are optimistic
Hawaii automobile dealers sold 118 fewer new vehicles in the first quarter of 1999 than the same period last year, a 1.2 percent drop.
While the sales of imports were up 10.4 percent, it was not enough to cover a sharp 13.8 percent decline in U.S. domestic vehicles sales, according to the Hawaii Automotive Dealers Association's latest figures.
A total of 9,604 new cars and trucks were sold in the first quarter this year, down from the 9,722 in the first quarter 1998.
Trucks continued to be the bright spot in sales, up 3.3 percent. Retail car sales dropped 2.2 percent in the first quarter. Sales of imported trucks increased 36.3 percent while domestic truck sales dropped 7.8 percent.
"Sales in January and February were somewhat strong but in March and April they fell off," said Eric Miyasaki, chief executive officer of Nissan Motor Corp. in Hawaii, which compiled the figures for the dealer's association.
Sales of U.S.-made cars and trucks were down 13.8 percent to 4,020 from 4,663 in 1998.
Imports retail sales hit 5,584, a 10.4 percent gain from the 5,059 in 1998.
Miyasaki said the sales of trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles have helped imported vehicle sales.
The used car market was strong last year which, according to Miyasaki, reflected people holding on to their old cars longer. He earlier predicted that this amounted to a pent-up demand for new vehicles which would lead into a 3-to-4 percent increase this year.
While the 1999 first quarter figures don't show that increase, Miyasaki remains confident.
"We're still projecting a 3 percent increase in retail sales," he said.
"We're still bullish. The summer selling season is our best time of the year."
He is not worried about the 118 drop in first quarter sales, calling it "a flat market".
Mike McKenna, president of Mike McKenna's Windward Ford and Windward Volkswagen/Mazda, also has noticed a shift in the used car trade-ins.
"Normally, we get trade-ins that are two or three years old, but now we're getting some that are five and six years old," McKenna said.
"We just noticed this happening in January."
Retail sales do not include rental fleet sales. On the rental side, there were 12,701 autos sold during the first quarter, down 8.8 percent from 13,919 in the first quarter of 1998, according to the dealers' figures.