After taking a breather in July, Maryland consumers bought new cars and light trucks at a record pace in August, according to figures released yesterday by the state Motor Vehicle Administration.
August sales were 3.7 percent better than in the like month last year, when vehicle deliveries were up nearly 30 percent.
Anirban Basu, director of applied economics at Towson University's RESI, called last month's sales gain evidence that the 3.1 percent dip in July was "a blip on the state's economic screen" due more to the low levels of vehicles in stock than to any consumer concerns about the state's financial health.
He said consumer confidence is growing in Maryland along with personal income, "and consumers are spending on big-ticket items."
"This is the time of the year when sales usually begin to dip as a result of back-to-school sales," said John Miller, a partner of the Miller Brothers Automotive family in Ellicott City. "But not this year. Sales are robust."
Not even the Bridgestone/Firestone tire recall has been able to dampen the public's buying spree. Miller said Explorer sales at his Ford dealership were up about 15 percent last month.
Nationwide, sales of the popular sport utility vehicle were up 3 percent last month.
The Explorer was the nation's fourth-best selling vehicle last month. In July it was No. 3.
According to MVA title registrations, which are equivalent to sales, state dealers sold 36,356 new cars and light trucks in August. This is up from 35,053 in the like part of 1999.
State motorists are also spending slightly more for their new vehicles. The average price for a new vehicle in August increased $163 from July to $22,879.
Chuck Boyle, president of Boyle Buick Inc. in Abingdon, said that despite increases in interest rates and fuel prices, "consumer confidence is high in Maryland."
Boyle, who is also chairman of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association, said he has noticed an increase in the number of buyers paying cash for their vehicles. "They are dipping into their savings or investments, which seem to be flush with money," he said.
The 3.7 percent increase here reflects the national trend in which new car and truck sales rose 4 percent last month. This is also reflected in the MVA records. The state reported that used-vehicle sales totaled 56,109 last month, an increase of 2.8 percent over sales in August 1999.
The average price of a used car sold last month was $7,578, down $48 from the average price in July.