There is a better road ahead for domestic auto retailers, but not all dealers will be going along for the ride.
This was the message yesterday from Maryann N. Keller, a well-known automotive analyst who was in town to address an automotive seminar sponsored by Walpert, Smullian & Blumenthal, an accounting and management consultant company based in Towson.
Ms. Keller, managing director of Furman Selz Inc. in New York, told about 100 automobile dealers that she expects sales to rise slightly next year. But she warned them not to expect buyers to line up at their doors the way they had in 1983 and 1984, when the country was emerging from another recession.
And for those dealers selling foreign brands, there was even less good news.
"Your heyday is over if you have Japanese brands," she told the dealers. She said that Japanese import sales are suffering from an average $2,000 price increase per car because of the strong value of the yen.
In addition, the Japanese were being hurt for other reasons, leading to a situation in which "collectively, none of them are making money."
"They invested huge dollars to make sporty coupes, and guess what is not selling today?" she asked rhetorically, noting that the demand today is for four-door family sedans.
While Ms. Keller said the Japanese car makers have benefited from tapping into the small, profitable sports coupe niche, sales of the coupes have dropped off between 10 and 40 percent this year.
The luxury car market, as a whole, is being hurt by Z improvements in quality and options now found on smaller and less expensive cars.
Another speaker, Jacob J. Cohen, a partner at Walpert, Smullian, in charge of the firm's automotive industry services group, said area dealers were in "pretty good shape."
Speaking only of the firm's 120 client dealers in Maryland, Southern Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia, Mr. Cohen said average dealership revenues, excluding fleet and rental sales, were up 19 percent last year when compared with 1991. He said the average dealership posted sales of $25.5 million in 1992, and the number of vehicles sold rose 23 percent.