New car sales rev up in York for 2015

David Weissman

York auto dealerships saw a significant rise in new car sales in 2015, keeping pace with the national trend.

Industry watchers give credit for the high performance to low gas prices and historically low interest rates that left more money in buyers' pockets. Nationwide, gas prices ended the year at an average of $2 per gallon, according to AAA. And while the Federal Reserve raised a key interest rate in December, it remains near zero. By comparison, that rate was 6.2 percent in 2000.

Oliver Strauss, the chief economist at car-buying site, says the interest rate would have to reach 3 percent before it would cause car sales to stagnate.

New cars sit on the Stetler Dodge Chrysler Jeep RAM lot Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. (Bill Kalina - The York Dispatch)

U.S. auto sales hit a record high of 17.47 million in 2015, according to Associated Press reports, topping the old record of 17.35 million set in 2000.

Eric Walther, general manager of Stetler Dodge Chrysler Jeep RAM in York, said new car sales at his dealership have steadily increased during the past three years.

Bob Darr, general manager of Beasley Ford Lincoln in Springettsbury Township, said 2015 was a "banner year" for his dealership, which saw some of the highest sales numbers in the state.

Nationally, Ford sold 780,354 F-Series trucks last year — more than one every minute — making it the nation's top-selling vehicle.

Darr said the Ford F-150 pickups were "selling like hotcakes" at his dealership, with about 20 to 40 sold each month.

"More people are buying domestic," he said. "Incentives (to buy new cars) are really good right now."

Darr and Walther both said used-car sales have remained fairly stagnant and pointed to incentives, including zero percent financing and huge rebates, as reasons for the consumer shift toward new cars.

Stetler Dodge Chrysler Jeep RAM
Sales Consultants Jennifer Williams and Brian Johnson chat at a new vehicle on the dealership's lot Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. Williams said that an expansion project at the dealership limits the staff's ability to see customers enter the lot. Stetler staffers watch training videos while they take turns sitting in one of the new vehicles which has a view of the entrance.

"In most cases, it's easier to transfer negative equity into new vehicles (than used vehicles)," Walther said.

Employment numbers also improved last year, so more buyers — particularly the huge generation of under-34 millennials — found they could finally afford a new car.

The York-Hanover seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for November was 4.2, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry, the lowest it has been since April 2008.

Industry experts have told Darr and Walther to expect that growth to continue into 2016, they said.

New-vehicle sales could rise as much as 3 percent to 18 million, according to Kelley Blue Book. That's half the pace of 2015, when full-year sales were up 6 percent, according to the Associated Press.

Walther, who's worked in the car industry for more than 30 years, said it's only a matter of time before the market becomes saturated and sales slow back down.

"It's just a part of life, just like weather," Walther said of the industry's ups and downs. "We're riding the wave up right now."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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