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Uncertain economy means car deals

Despite shaky credit market, loans remain available for many

Posted: October 4, 2008 8:35 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Despite tight credit markets and a national economic downturn, getting a car or other vehicle is still a good possibility. Dealers coping with large inventories are looking to make a deal.

With a national financial crisis continuing to shake up the country, local auto dealers are facing their own struggles as the U.S. auto market continues to decline.

“Business is very challenging,” said Don Fleming, president of the Auto Dealers Association and co-owner of Valencia Acura.

While hybrid vehicles are selling, there is only  limited supply of them, he said.

“It’s a very strange market,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it like this.”

On top of the ongoing economic slowdown, the current political election changed people, Fleming said.

“There is so much turmoil going on,” he said. “People are confused and concerned.”

At Valencia Nissan, gas-efficient cars like the Nissan Altima remain on the radar of potential car buyers.

“The SUV, big-truck market is definitely taking a big slowdown,” said Keith Seals, general manager of Valencia Nissan.

The hybrid Altima is selling better than earlier in the year, he said. He believes once the price of gas hit $4, consumers became much more interested in gas-efficient cars.

“Most dealerships have fewer people coming in shopping for cars,” he said.

He views consumer confidence, the trouble with the banking industry and the current economy as a “big factor” for the slowdown in business.

The situation is similar at BMW.

“Naturally sales are impacted,” said Sudhir Sood, general manager, noting the entire BMW company had a dip in sales.

He maintains that BMW has not been impacted as much as other makes and models.

“BMW has a good line of products,” he said.

Many models are fuel efficient and Sood said a benefit for BMW is that the car manufacturer is one of the few that provides full maintenance on cars.

But business at the dealerships is not at a complete stand still.

Even though sales are slow, Fleming said business at service departments is strong.

“People are servicing their cars rather than buying new cars,” he said.

Regardless Fleming remains optimistic.

“I do believe there is a bit of sunshine with all the clouds,” he said.

Fleming notes that 95 percent of the workforce in Santa Clarita is working.

“Most people are in good shape in their homes,” he said.

Large inventories
In addition, the market created good opportunities for people interested in purchasing a car, Fleming said.

“There is credit available for people to buy a car,” he said.

He said most dealerships have large inventories, which has forced them to pay flooring charges.

As a result, dealers will be “very aggressive” in making a deal with shoppers.

“I think if you’re a consumer, you couldn’t find a better time to buy one,” he said.

But an ongoing slowdown could have a potential impact on the amount of sales tax generated for the city and city programs for local residents.

In recent years, sales tax revenue from the Valencia Auto Center contributed $6 million to the city’s general fund.

“Any decline in sales tax revenue creates less funding,” said Andree Walper, city economic development associate. “In that respect, we would have to be more careful about how we’re spending money.”

Fleming said car dealers serve as the single largest tax generator for the city of Santa Clarita.
According to the Shop Valencia Auto Center Web site, every car purchased from a Valencia Auto Center dealership averaging $30,000 generates $2,475 in sales tax. The city receives $300 from that amount.

Walper believes a struggling economy is one more reason why local residents should be shopping within city limits. “We are really encouraging people to shop local,” she said.

Revenue from sales tax is the main source of funding for various projects and services in Santa Clarita.
That money goes towards parks, public safety and major undertakings like the Cross Valley Connector, she said.

Shopping locally
Shopping within city limits is another way to “keep up the quality of life,” she said.

“Local businesses are businesses that sponsor your little league team,” she said.

The city will be working to encourage more people to shop locally by offering coupons and other discount programs in the coming months, Walper said.

Another idea is to create a guide for local residents.

Though the Shop Local campaign has benefited the dealers, Fleming hopes the Valencia Auto Center will continue to remain in the minds of future car buyers.

“If you are in the market buying a car, please give local car dealers a shot at it,” he said.


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