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New-car sales in Md. dropped 6.1% in April


After four months of sales gains that had some dealer fantasizing about a return of the good ol' days, Maryland's mini boom in new-car sales apparently ran out of gas in April.

According to title registration figures released yesterday by the state's Motor Vehicle Administration, Maryland motorists bought 6.1 percent fewer new vehicles last month than during April 1992.

John Fratta, general sales manager at Lee Oldsmobile Inc. on NorthCrain Highway in Glen Burnie, blamed the decline in sales to consumers' lingering fears that the dark clouds of recession might not be gone for good.

"I don't want to sound overly political," he said, "but people don't seem to think this president is doing any more to solve the country's economic problems than the last one."

Mr. Fratta said a sizable percentage of his business last month stemmed from what he called "must trades -- cars with 120,000, 130,000 and 140,000 on the odometer. People were trading them to avoid high repair bills," he said. "In the past, these cars would not havegotten past 80,000 miles."

The MVA data showed that dealers sold 22,553 new vehicles last month, down from 24,025 in April 1992.

Last month's decline followed sales gains of 8.2 percent in December, 2.1 percent in January, 20 percent in February and 10.9 percent in March.

Used cars continued to appeal to thrift-minded motorists.

The state figures showed dealers sold nearly two previously owned cars for each model driven off the new car lot. Used-car sales totaled 43,670 last month, down 3.7 percent from 45,355 in the same part of last year.

"The typical used-car buyer doesn't seem to be overly concerned about the long-term economic outlook," said Mr. Fratta. "They take their income tax return and buy a used car."

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