Car dealers are smiling

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PITTSFIELD -- It was a good weekend for selling cars and trucks.

With the automotive industry on the rise again, representatives from several Berkshire County dealerships report that their sales during the three-day Presidents Day weekend -- the traditional kickoff of the car-buying season -- were the best they had seen in years.

"I've been checking our numbers, and we're probably already ahead of our best- ever weekend," George Haddad, the owner of Haddad Motor Group, said early Monday afternoon.

Haddad operates Hyundai, Subaru and Toyota dealerships.

"This year is much better than last year, and last year wasn't bad," said Gary Johnson, the owner of Johnson Nissan on East Street.

Johnson also sells Fords and Lincoln Mercurys.

"I think [sales] are probably 40 to 50 percent better than last year," he said.

"I don't necessarily track those numbers," said Dan Maloney, general manager of McAndrews-King Buick GMC in Adams, referring to the dealership's sales. "But we're very, very happy with our sales over the weekend and what we've seen today."

Maloney said the weekend's sales provided a nice start to the selling season.

"We're very optimistic," he said.

With the profits of automakers up nationally, they already are gearing up for a big year.

According to Automotive News, automakers project sales of 13.6 million to 13.8 million vehicles in 2012, up from 12.8 million in 2011. But total sales projections rise to 14.4 million when sales of all smaller brands are factored in.

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American Honda is predicting a 25 percent increase this year, and Nissan North America projects an 18 percent rise. General Motors, Toyota Motor Sales and Chrysler Group believe sales of their brands can jump as much as 15 percent.

All those targets outpace total industry growth, which is estimated to be 8 percent, according to the Automotive News.

Haddad said the auto industry is coming back, but he isn't sure this past weekend's sales locally are a direct result of that. He said the economy may be a factor, because with the recession, consumers have been holding on to their cars and trucks longer than they usually do. He said the average car on the road today is 10 years old.

"You have the oldest fleet that's been out there in many, many years. So at some point, people are going to have to trade in their cars and upgrade," Haddad said. "This may be one of those years where people are trading in their cars."

Johnson agreed, saying: "The fuel economy on new cars is much better, and there are a lot of old cars out there that need to be replaced."

"If you look at it from an economic point of view, people are more confident coming back," said Dennis Dubie, the owner of K-M Motors in North Adams, where sales of Toyotas and Jeeps this past weekend were ahead of last year. "Either that or they're tired of holding on to their cars too long and there's pent-up demand."

Auto dealers also are offering low interest rates, making financing a new car easier.

Interest rates are "way down," Johnson said.

"The weather's been with us, too," he added. "We've been snowed out many times."

Haddad said the three brands his dealership sells are doing well. Two years ago, Toyota recalled eight American-made models because of safety defects, but Haddad said those issues no longer affect sales.

"Toyota is on the move again," he said. "They were cleared of everything. They couldn't find anything wrong with the cars.

"We're on pace to have our best month ever," Haddad said Monday. "This weekend, I know we're going to sell over 100 [vehicles]. I think the best we ever did was 60."


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