New car and light truck sales in Maryland gained 4 percent in April, according to figures from the state Motor Vehicle Administration.
Although the gain was nothing like the 24 percent and 35 percent increases of March and February, respectively, it did establish April 2000 as the 18th consecutive month in which sales were higher than in the corresponding month of the previous year.
In fact, showroom business was stronger last month than any April since 1991, when the MVA resumed releasing title-registration figures, which equate with sales.
Maryland's vehicle sales trend "continues to be mind-boggling," said Robert C. Russel, president of R&H; Motor Cars Ltd. in Owings Mills.
"We're in good times, there is no question about that," said Peter Kitzmiller, president of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association, a trade group representing the majority of the state's 350 new car outlets.
Anirban Basu, director of applied economics for Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute, said the higher vehicle sales are an indication that the state's economy is still very strong.
"It shows that consumers still feel comfortable about their job prospects and are quite willing to spend a substantial portion of their income on a new purchases," Basu said.
Basu said the lessening of the increase in sales last month from the huge increases of the previous two months is an indication that consumer spending is beginning to slow. He attributed last month's sales performance to volatility in the securities markets. "Without a substantial market rebound," he said, "I think spending activity will be more muted in the second half of the year."
Kitzmiller said sales were strong across the board with no indication that higher gasoline prices cut into luxury car or light truck sales.
The MVA reported that consumers bought 34,485 new vehicles last month. That compares with sales of 33,133 in the corresponding period of last year.
Although consumers are buying more vehicles, MVA numbers show that they cut back on the amount of money spent on each purchase.
The average price for a new vehicle sold in April was $22,193, down $777 from the average price in March.