Sept. 15--While some parts of the economy remain a bit sluggish, automobile dealers appear to be pulling out of the recession.
Eager buyers have been keeping midstate dealerships busy for more than a year, especially last month.
"It's been a very good year," said Chuck Tyler, general manager of Hughes Honda in Warner Robins. "In August it was really the best jump we've seen all year long. ... Our sales jumped about 22 percent in August from year over year. ... I think it's caught everybody by surprise, to be honest with you."
The recession appears to be in the rearview mirror for the U.S. automobile industry.
New car sales jumped 17 percent to 1.5 million in August, their highest level in more than six years. Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Honda, Chrysler and General Motors all posted double-digit gains over last August.
The full-year sales pace rose above 16 million for the first time since November 2007, the month before the Great Recession officially started. Automakers said sales likely will remain at that pace for the rest of this year.
Some Middle Georgia dealers say the increase in sales comes from a combination of things.
"I think there is a lot of pent up demand out there," Tyler said. "People have been holding onto cars. We see it in our service department."
Most of the sales Tyler is seeing are need-driven instead of want-driven, he said. People have kept their vehicles so long that sometimes it makes more sense to trade them than to keep getting their older vehicle repaired.
The cars on U.S. roads have reached a record average of 11.4 years old and need to be replaced. More people are working as the economy improves, and they need automobiles to commute to their jobs.
Terry Tiller, CEO and general manager of Riverside Ford Lincoln in Macon, agreed.
"The cars we are trading in, lots of them have high mileage," he said. "(People) have been hanging on, waiting for things to pick up. From what I read, we are not where we need to be, but we are feeling it (picking up). Maybe Macon is getting a little better."
Tiller said his sales this year are "almost as good as 2007" before the U.S. economy tumbled.
"It started in the fall (of 2012) ... and January was a really good month, and I had a good feeling. It's been good every month."
August was the best month all year, he said, which was surprising because "there are a lot of distractions in August with kids going back to school and tax-free weekend. Nobody buys a car that weekend. They are all buying books or computers."
Some people are buying new cars because of an increase in used cars prices, said Forest Hutchinson, president of Hutchinson Auto Mall, a Buick, GMC, Cadillac dealership off Arkwright Road in north Bibb County.
"A lot of buyers who can buy a new or a used (vehicle) we are seeing buy new because they are seeing what it costs to buy a used car," Hutchinson said. "Just for a few dollars more they can buy a new car that nobody's driven, comes with a warranty (and) with all the latest features. That's what we're seeing."
Some people may think more used cars are available because car sales are up, but that's not necessarily the case, Hutchinson said.
"The 'cash for clunkers' program (in 2009) took a lot of used cars out of the market," he said. "So, what we're seeing is increasing used car prices. ... Used car demand is high. ... We are seeing used car buyers in a fight for the same car, which will drive up used car prices."
The "Cash for Clunkers" federal program was supposed to be a boon for the environment and the economy. During a limited time, consumers could trade in an old gas-guzzling car for up to $4,500 cash back towards the purchase of a fuel-efficient new car.
"In Macon, we've been blessed," Hutchinson said. "We've not had some of the dips I read about in other cities, and because of that I do think people in Middle Georgia feel better than people in other states. A lot of people have been nervous about the economy, but they have been watching it for awhile, and it's kind o