While few would argue economic times have been better, one positive indicator is that new vehicle sales were up here in 2011.
Nick Beyak, owner of Sunset Country Ford, noted the number of new vehicles registered in the Fort Frances market area, which stretches west to Rainy River, north to Nestor Falls, and east to Atikokan, was about eight percent higher than in 2010.
As of Nov. 30, a total of 847 new vehicles were registered. A total of 784 new vehicles were registered in 2010.
These included 699 trucks, SUVs, and vans and 148 cars. In 2010, the numbers were comprised of 636 trucks, SUVs, and vans and 148 cars.
When asked what the reason for the increased sales might be, Beyak noted that according to the Canadian Auto Dealers Association, vehicle prices—as a percentage of income—are at their lowest level in 25 years right now.
“There’s a lot of incentives on vehicles that everyone knows now,” he added. “A truck might list for $40,000 but you can get $10,000 off it, for example.
“So, as a percentage of income, the vehicle prices are their lowest in 25 years. I think that is a big factor,” Beyak stressed.
Specifically talking about trucks, Beyak said “all three manufacturers in this area have gotten aggressive on truck deals, and this is a big truck market, so that is a big reason for it, too.”
Another factor is an increased availability of credit, said Chad Avis of West End Motors.
“We’re finally starting to see an ease back in the credit. Credit availability is becoming easier again,” he explained.
“When the downturn happened in ’08, ’09, part of 2010, credit was pretty tight.
“And it slowly started to come back, and credit availability is there again for the consumer,” Avis noted.
Chris Hayes of MacDonald Motors agreed, noting both the availability of credit and lower interest rates have helped.
Still another factor is that “a lot of re-designed products from the manufacturers are getting people back in the market,” said Beyak, adding vehicles are coming out with updated technologies in them, like Bluetooth, navigation systems, blindspot monitoring, and the ability to parallel park on their own.
“People think, ‘You know what? My five- or six-year-old vehicle is kind of dated. It’s starting to clunk, it’s starting to do this or that.
“It’s starting to cost me a bit of money, so I am going to go look at this other [vehicle] because it has these added things,’” he remarked.
“Then they see the value, how much prices have come down, and they’re getting newer technologies, it’s easier for them to justify to themselves that it’s a good time to buy a car.”
Yet another factor is that some of the local dealerships stocked more vehicles in 2011.
“People seeing them on the lots, they’ll pop in and ask about something they might like,” reasoned Beyak.
“If there’s not as much inventory, they might not stop.
“I think that had something to do with it because I noticed everyone in town—ourselves and the other two—stocked up with more inventory than normal, so that was good,” Beyak added.
“I know, myself, we’re carrying a little more inventory than in the downturn of 2008-09, just due to the general economic conditions being better and sales being up,” agreed Avis.
“I think everybody was carrying a little bit more inventory.”
“We’ve always kept a fairly large inventory, so I don’t that’s affected us a whole bunch,” disagreed Hayes. “But definitely the incentives have helped, and the fact that we’re just putting out a better product.”
Beyak clarified the numbers show how many new vehicles were registered in the Fort Frances market area.
So while it’s true the numbers include a customer who bought a new vehicle elsewhere and brought it back here to register it, it also is true that if a local dealer sold a truck to someone from out of town, who then registered it in, say, Dryden, it would not count.
“They kind of balance each other out, those ones, so it’s a pretty accurate number,” he remarked.
As well, the numbers only are reflective of sales up to the end of November, as the figures up to Dec. 31 haven’t been put out yet.
Looking at the year ahead, Beyak said he feels 2012 will continue to be a good year for vehicle sales here.
“I think it’s only going to get better. I think the demand is going to increase,” he noted.
“I think vehicles are only going to be more innovative and the deals are going to continue, so I think the sales are going to increase again for this year.”
Avis isn’t quite as optimistic.
“Right now, I don’t think it’s going to be as good as what we saw in 2010-11. That’s my own personal feeling going forward,” he said.
“Industry-wide, it might be, but locally, with everything happening in the economy, and I guess, how strong the sales have been in the last two years, I think 2012 might take a little bit of a dip as opposed to what we’ve seen in the past two years,” Avis added.