Spokane Journal of Business

Car sales climb in Inland Northwest

SUVs, crossovers, trucks said in highest demand

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-—Mike McLean
Mark Waltermire and his brother Matt, of Dishman Dodge Ram Chrysler Jeep, show off some of the dealership’s hottest car models, including a 700-horsepower Dodge Hellcat Challenger.

New vehicles sales here are the strongest in years due largely to rising consumer confidence and high demand for sport utility vehicles, crossover vehicles, and pickups, several Inland Northwest dealers say.

Mark Waltermire, general manager at Dishman Dodge Ram Chrysler Jeep, in Spokane Valley, says sales have been trending upward for five years with Chrysler recently reporting 62 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains.

“We’re seeing the same here locally,” he says.

Jeep is leading the Chrysler brands in sales at the Dishman dealership, Waltermire says.

“We had the best month ever for Jeep sales in May,” he says, adding that Jeep sales were up 13 percent over May 2014.

For its total sales, the dealership posted its best May in 11 years, Waltermire says.

So far this year, total sales at the dealership are tracking at a 4 percent increase over the same period last year, he says.

On an industrywide scale, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that U.S. car sales could total 17 million vehicles this year for the first time since 2001.

Waltermire says the hottest-selling vehicles at the dealership at 7700 E. Sprague have been the Jeep Wrangler SUV and the Cherokee compact crossover.

A crossover utility vehicle is built on a car frame with some attributes of a sport utility vehicles, such as all-wheel drive.

SUVs originally were built on truck chassis, and usually have at least some off-road and towing capabilities.

The dealership’s Ram truck brand is running a close second to Jeep, Waltermire says.

Buyers also are looking for the latest technology.

“The younger generation expects to have bigger screens and backup cameras,” he says.

The Dodge Challenger and Charger muscle cars also are drawing attention, and it’s not because of the recent drop in gas prices, Waltermire says.

“The people who buy these cars don’t care about the price of gas,” he says.

Consumer confidence has recovered over the last five years, and financial institutions also are lending more aggressively than they were a few year ago, Waltermire says.

The staff count at the Dishman dealership also has been on a slow rise. “We have about 110 employees, which is probably the largest we’ve been,” he says.

Waltermire says the dealership currently is selling about 100 new vehicles a month. “We’re selling a few more new cars than used cars right now,” he says, adding that sales of used cars has been consistent even during the economic downturn.

"We’re seeing customers make bigger down payments
and finance for shorter terms.”

Rick Reilly
Foothills Lincoln Mazda

“We stock about 200 used cars,” he says. “The lower end of the used-car business is strong. There’s always a market for cars in the range of $10,000 to $15,000. We try to stock at least 40 of those at all times. A lot of people can afford payments in the $250-a-month range.”

Dale Cornwell, a principal at Becker Buick GMC, also says sales are up this year, largely due to strong demand for SUVs and crossovers.

Cornwell says the dealerships two locations at 636 E. Sprague, east of downtown, and 6623 N. Division, on the North Side, have been selling a total of 70 to 80 vehicles a month this year, up from 50 to 60 vehicles 2011.

The GMC Terrain compact SUV has been one of the dealership’s best sellers for several years, he says.

“The Buick Encore crossover, which is the smallest Buick, is doing really well,” Cornwell says. “We stock about 25 all the time.”

GMC’s half-ton pickups also are strong sellers, although sales of three-quarter-ton trucks are down a bit at the dealership, he says.

As much as he’s read about the recent drop in fuel prices fueling sales, Cornwell says he’s not hearing talk about that from customers.

“We don’t see many people wanting electric cars or even better gas mileage,” he says, adding that the dealership doesn’t even stock the Buick Verano hybrid model because of low demand here for it.

Where customers have the option, they tend to choose six-cylinder engines over four-cylinder engines, he says. “That says to me that people want power and will pay a little more for gas.”

Cornwell says General Motors Co. has taken the Buick and GMC brands a little more upscale with its current models to separate them more from GM’s Chevrolet brand.

“Our clientele is willing to spend a little more for the extras,” he says.

The staffing level has remained steady at 50 to 60 employees since 2008, Cornwell says, adding, however, that he’s looking to hire car washers and lube techs.

Cornwell predicts sales will level out in coming years, and possibly drop if potential government mandates for improved fuel economy lead to higher vehicle prices.

Rick Reilly, general manager at Foothills Lincoln Mazda, says, though, that anticipated development of vehicles with higher gas mileage, could contribute to continued strong sales going forward, especially if loan interest rates remain low and gas prices remain stable.

“New car sales are very strong,” he says “Sales are up in both new Mazdas and Lincolns. I can’t find any reason that would change.”

Reilly also says sales are trending upward at the dealership at 202 E. North Foothills Drive.

Lower to midpriced vehicles such as the Mazda 3 compact car and the CX5 crossover are best sellers, he says.

Reilly says the Lincoln MKC luxury compact SUV has been a huge success and is leading The Lincoln Motor Co.’s transition of its car line, which includes the MKC and MKZ sedans.

Used-car sales also have been consistent the last couple of years.

Even if consumers are showing rising confidence, they are in some ways more cautious than before the recession.

“We’re seeing customers make bigger down payments and finance for shorter terms. Frankly, they’re making better, more careful decisions,” Reilly says.

Jason Litterell, sales manager at Parker Toyota Scion, in Coeur d’Alene, says sales are strong in terms of volume.

Litterell says the RAV 4, a small SUV, has been the hottest selling model at the dealership at 470 W. Kathleen.

The current dip in gas prices also has helped boost truck sales, he says.

“We’ve had an upturn in Tundra and Tacoma truck sales,” Litterell says.

Toyota Forerunner and Highlander SUVs are also in demand.

“They are produced more slowly, but we’re selling every one that we can get on the lot,” he says.

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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