Vehicles' first-quarter sales bring optimism


POSTED: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Plummeting vehicle sales are falling more like a feather than an anvil now, and trends foretell growth, a new report shows.

Statewide auto sales dipped 1 percent in the first quarter compared with the year-earlier quarter, according to the quarterly Hawaii Auto Outlook, published by Pennsylvania-based Auto Outlook Inc.

Oahu recorded sales growth of 2.4 percent for the quarter, the only county in positive territory. All other neighbor islands saw double-digit or near double-digit drops. Sales fell 14.4 percent on Kauai, 10.4 percent on the Big Island and 9.1 percent on Maui. Nationally, sales grew 5.9 percent.

Sales of light trucks were off 5.5 percent statewide, with 48.5 percent of the market in the first quarter, versus 54 percent last year.

Among overall vehicle sales for the quarter, the greatest growth occurred in entry cars such as the Honda Fit and Nissan Cube, the market share of which rose 2.4 percent.

The largest market share loss occurred among full-size pickup trucks, down 2.6 percent.






        Hawaii auto sales were down on all counties in the first quarter except for Oahu:





Island1Q 20101Q 2009% change
Big Island862962-10.4


        Source: Hawaii Auto Outlook




Three-month moving averages, which blunt any sales spikes caused by manufacturer incentives or valleys due to other factors, show a clear upturn in sales trends following a nearly 45 percent drop in vehicle sales in December 2008.

Sales are expected to end the year 6.8 percent ahead of last year, Hawaii Auto Outlook predicts. Publisher Jeff Foltz cites the record-high level of pent-up demand and low sales for the past two years, expected economic recovery over the next 12 to 18 months and the affordability of new vehicles as some reasons for the forecast.

However, anticipated growth might be tempered by “;high unemployment rates, shaky consumer confidence and still-high household debt levels,”; he wrote. Sales recovery will likely be gradual and remain below historic average levels “;for quite some time.”;

The Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association, for which the report is prepared, predicts 3 percent sales growth this year. “;HADA was calling it that in the middle of last year,”; said Dave Rolf, executive director.

HADA's less robust forecast is based on “;the difficulties the state was experiencing with regard to the whole economy here,”; he said.

Foltz describes the level of pent-up demand, resulting from two years' worth of low sales, as being unsustainable.

“;Replacement demand alone practically guarantees that the market will head higher,”; he wrote.

Attendance at the recent First Hawaiian International Auto Show was strong throughout the event. “;There was no slow hour,”; Rolf said, adding “;there is an incredible amount of energy in the market,”; which dealers naturally hope will translate into sales.

Hawaii's economic performance during the recession “;wasn't as bad as the national average,”; said economist Paul Brewbaker in a recent Star-Bulletin interview. He cited general agreement among economists that the recession ended in September and added, “;Hawaii ... is looking at reasonable recovery prospects.”;






        Top 10-selling brands in state in the first quarter:





BrandMarket share


        Source: Hawaii Auto Outlook