Friday, January 25, 2002

Isle auto sales end year
off 1.8% despite strong finish

By Tim Ruel

Sales of new cars and trucks to Hawaii consumers rose 2 percent in the last three months of 2001, capping off a relatively strong year for the industry, according to figures from the Hawaii Automobile Dealers' Association.

A total of 12,367 cars and trucks were sold in the fourth quarter, up from 12,123 in the same period last year. For all of 2001, 51,521 automobiles were sold statewide, a slip of 1.8 percent from 52,456 automobiles in 2000, which was the third-best year on record for sales.

Nationwide, 17.2 million light trucks and cars were sold in 2001, making it the second-best sales year ever, although sales did decline 1.2 percent from a record 17.4 million in 2000. No-interest loans from major automakers helped to offset the economic consequences of Sept. 11, as well as the overall weakening in the U.S. economy.

In Hawaii, the strongest year-end numbers came from sales of foreign trucks, which rose 2.7 percent to 5,202 from 5,067. Domestic car sales were the weakest segment of 2001, falling 7.7 percent to 12,297 from 13,324.

In the fourth quarter, overall domestic sales were particularly hit, falling 12.8 percent to 4,070 from 4,669.

The domestic numbers partially fell victim to strong demand, which outstripped the available inventory in Hawaii, said Dave Chun, president of Honolulu Ford in Kakaako. The financing deals that became available after Sept. 11 caused purchases to jump in October and November, and Honolulu Ford basically ran out of cars by December, Chun said.

"It was just the availability from Ford," Chun said. "You never have enough of what you want."

The dealers association's latest figures also contain a warning about the near-term outlook for Hawaii's visitor industry, said Eric Miyasaki, chief executive of Nissan Motor Corp. in Hawaii. A total of 5,976 cars were sold to rental companies in the last three months of 2001, a 46 percent plunge from 10,995 in the same period in 2000. The drop indicates that the rental car companies believe tourism will continue to be weak for the next few months, Miyasaki said.

"That's a very spooky indicator," he said.

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