By CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK
Consumers replacing older vehicles are still helping drive auto sales statewide. Area dealers are forecasting a 6.5 percent increase in sales this year because of this pent-up demand, as well as consistent incentives and vehicle affordability.
Hawaii Auto Outlook, a report released by the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association, predicted new vehicle sales will continue to follow an upward trend in 2013, but warned the gain would likely fall short of that seen last year. The number of new vehicles sold in the state increased nearly 21 percent, from 37,086 in 2011 to 44,830 last year.
The pent-up demand is “the single-most significant force driving the market” and the reason why consumers were visiting Hawaii showrooms, according to the report.
“Consumers delayed purchasing new vehicles during the recession, and as a result, vehicles are old and wearing out,” the Hawaii Auto Outlook stated. “In addition, new vehicles offer a tremendous improvement when compared to the average 11-year-old vehicle currently on the road.”
The anticipated uptick would mark the fourth consecutive annual increase. However, the growth is expected to be slower and smaller than last year because of consumer debt still being mended.
Fiscal policy will likely result in the raising of taxes or spending cuts, according to the report.
Registrations in Hawaii are anticipated to reach 48,000 units this year. The Big Island had the largest increase, nearly 29 percent, in vehicle registrations, growing from 4,474 last year to 3,479 in 2011. The top three selling brands islandwide were Toyota/Scion (31.7 percent), Honda (19 percent) and Nissan (11.5 percent).
A total of 2,833 hybrid and electric vehicles were registered last year in Hawaii, above the previous record high of 1,749 in 2006, the report stated.
Wayne De Luz, vice president of operations for Big Island Toyota and Hilo-Kona Mazda Subaru Hyundai, said consumers, acting on caution, opted to hold onto their aging vehicles a little longer rather than replace them during the Great Recession. But now, with the economy stabilizing and slowly improving, consumers seem “more upbeat and confident,” particularly the former new car buyers from 2004, who are eager to trade in. He added, there’s definitely more interest and activity in the showroom.
De Luz said his dealerships are predicting growth in new vehicle sales and leasing in 2013. He mentioned how record-low interest rates, better credit availability and greater access to loans were not only luring consumers in, but making it easier to afford a new vehicle. He’s also noticed some consumers are choosing to pay the extra $20 or $30 per month to buy or lease a new car instead of settling for something with 20,000 miles or more.
Still De Luz also thinks used car sales will remain steady, especially for those looking for short-term options. He talked about working with contractors in need of something temporary until the construction and housing sector fully recovers.
Marty Barger, general manager at Big Island Honda in Kailua-Kona, and Jorge Mahilum, general manager of Kona Auto Center and Kona Nissan, could not be reached, as of press time Tuesday.
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