If it's going to take the spending power of consumers to pull Maryland's economy from the doldrums, there was evidence yesterday that the state may be heading toward recovery.
The Motor Vehicle Administration reported that new-car sales rose a healthy 23 percent last month compared with the same period a year ago.
During the first nine months of the year, new-vehicle sales -- including trucks -- were up 10.3 percent.
The numbers are encouraging, said Michael Conte, director of regional economic studies at the University of Baltimore. Mr. Conte said the state has been in a strong consumer-led recovery the past three months.
Auto dealers generally agree that times are better, but not good. Tom O'Donnell, who owns Honda, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Isuzu, Volvo and GMC truck outlets in the Ellicott City area, said this year's sales gains follow a flat 1992 selling period.
He termed the current situation "a need market" -- consumers forced to replace their old, high-mileage vehicles.
Mr. O'Donnell said dealers still are not seeing a significant number of people buying new cars simply because they want one.
The exception, he said, is with trucks and four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicles.
"They are doing better than the car market," Mr. O'Donnell said. "They are leading the charge."
According to MVA title registration figures, which reflect dealer sales, 29,982 new vehicles were sold last month, compared with 24,312 in September 1992. During the first nine months of the year, sales totaled 230,474, up from 208,950 in the same period last year.
The average price of a new vehicle was $17,147 last month, up $642 from the previous September.