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Statewide sales of new vehicles are down again


New vehicle sales in Maryland declined for the third consecutive month in August as state motorists rejected the generous cash rebates offered by car manufacturers designed to clear the lots of 1995 models.

According to registration figures released by the Motor Vehicle Administration yesterday, new vehicle sales were 7.9 percent below the sales pace in the same month last year.

For the first eight months of the year, auto and truck sales are off 3.6 percent in Maryland, according to the MVA.

Michael Conte, director of regional economic studies at the University of Baltimore, took an optimistic view of the sales trend. Noting that vehicle

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deliveries were off 18 percent in June and down 10 percent in July, Mr. Conte said: "We're on the way back. We're catching up."

Mr. Conte said that auto sales were very strong in the state during the third quarter last year. "If we can get back to where we were last year, that would be as well as we can expect," he said.

The economist said that auto sales have been helped by a slight decline in interest rates and the increasing age of cars on the road.

During August, auto manufacturers were offering incentives ranging from $300 on a Ford Escort and Geo Metro to $2,500 on a Ford Taurus SHO and Chrysler New Yorkers. Cadillac was giving a rebate of $3,500 on its Fleetwood sedan.

The state's figures show 29,062 new vehicles were bought last month, compared with 31,562 in August 1994. The average price was $19,287. This was $891 more than the average new

car price a year ago, but $500 more than the average price paid in July.

Used-car sales also were off last month, but the decline was not nearly as sharp. Dealers sold 48,645 previously owned cars last month. This was a decline of less than 1 percent from August 1994, when used-vehicle sales totaled 49,063.

As an indication that consumers are tightening their purse strings, the average price of the used car bought last month was $5,969. This was $227 less than the average used-car price in July, according to the state.

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