Hawaii auto sales during the first quarter were up 13 percent over a year earlier. The sales pace is faster than all of 2002, according to the Hawaii Auto Dealers Association.

Hawaii auto sales
stay in the passing lane

Hawaii sales of new cars and trucks kept on climbing through the first quarter of this year, chalking up a 13 percent increase in sales compared with a year earlier.

Fears that the war in Iraq might inhibit sales turned out to be unjustified, according to figures prepared for the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association.

The rate of sales increase was more than double the full-year improvement of 5.2 percent last year and more than triple the 4.4 percent year-over-year increase during the last quarter of 2002.

In the first three months of 2003, imports soared above domestic makes, but all sales were strong. Eric Miyasaki, chief executive officer of Nissan Motor Corp. in Hawaii, said the sales increase seems mainly to be a result of low mortgage interest rates leading people to refinance their homes and come up with extra cash.


They are using that money to buy the car or truck they have wanted for years, Miyasaki said.

"People put off their purchases for a long time," he said. "They held on to their cars for the longest period in their lives."

Joe Nicolai, owner of JN Automotive, said manufacturers' rebates make up a much more important reason for people to buy.

"With zero interest and up to $4,000 in rebates that you can use for a down payment, a client can now buy a new car for no money out of his pocket and get zero interest for 60 months. I've been in this business for 44 years and I've never seen such phenomenal subsidies coming from manufacturers," he said.

Nicolai, whose brands include Chevrolet, Mazda, Maserati and Lamborghini cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, said his company's sales are up 23 percent compared to last year.

Hawaii's Toyota dealership had another explanation for the sales boom this year. In the last quarter of 2002 there was labor unrest on the West Coast docks and shipping slowed down.

"In the fourth quarter of last year, we couldn't get the vehicles. Now they've arrived and we've been filling pent-up demand, said Wes Kimura, vice president of strategic planning for Toyota dealer Servco Pacific Inc.

The dealers' association has pointed out that through the 1990s sales of new vehicles in Hawaii were down and the dealers welcome the recovery. Dealers say the higher sales are partly a result of incentives, such as low-interest or no-interest loans, but pent-up demand is a big factor.

As usual, imports led domestic models in new-car sales.

Of the total of 11,425 cars sold at retail in the first three months, 8,472 cars, or 74 percent of the total, were imported. Including trucks and cars, imports won 68 percent of the total Hawaii market.

Miyasaki said that while car sales are lower on the mainland, Hawaii still looks good for the near future, likely to produce a 3 percent to 5 percent year-over-year increase through April and May.


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