Maryland's already sputtering new car sales industry suffered another setback last month as sales dropped further than those for the rest of the nation.
New car and truck sales fell 18.4 percent in June, according to figures released yesterday by the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. For the nation as a whole, new car and light truck sales were down less than 1 percent.
"We're seeing a lot more cautious buyer today," said John Fratta, general sales manager at Ernie Swanson's Oldsmobile on North Crain Highway in Glen Burnie.
Mr. Fratta said that would-be car buyers in the state seem to be nervous about the unsettled political climate in Washington and what impact big budget cuts will have on government employment, defense contracting and military base closings in Maryland.
But politics is just part of the problem. The high cost of cars and trucks also is having a negative impact on sales, the dealer said.
"Very few people are buying a new car the first time they see it," Mr. Fratta said. "They start out shopping, see the high prices, and many times decide that they can drive their old car another six months."
Maryland dealers don't have a lot to look forward to the rest of the year, according to a regional economist. "This is going to be a bad year for auto dealers," said Michael Conte, director of regional economic studies at the University of Baltimore.
"Interest rates are beginning to come down, and this will stimulate auto sales," Mr. Conte said, "but I don't expect sales to bounce back until the end of the year."
The Motor Vehicle Administration figures show that 31,098 new vehicles were bought last month, compared with 38,126 in June 1994. The average price was $18,687. Although this was slightly more than $1,000 above the average new vehicle price in the same month last year, the state's figures indicate that consumers are opting for cheaper cars or eliminating some costly extras. The average vehicle price in June was more than $750 below the average price in January. Used car sales rose slightly. The MVA reported that dealers sold 50,678 used vehicles last month, up from 50,119 in June 1994.