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5:05 PM Tue, Nov. 20th

Car sales remain steady in Kingman

Dave Watson, a salesman at 66 Auto Sales, shows a 2002 Dodge Ram to a browsing customer Thursday morning. The company has been in business 33 years, specializing in low-mileage pre-owned vehicles. NICHOLAS WILBUR/Miner

Dave Watson, a salesman at 66 Auto Sales, shows a 2002 Dodge Ram to a browsing customer Thursday morning. The company has been in business 33 years, specializing in low-mileage pre-owned vehicles. NICHOLAS WILBUR/Miner

Top U.S. automakers saw March sales fall off by as much as 19 percent compared to last year, according to reports released this week, but local dealerships may not be suffering as much from the struggling economy and record gas prices as national trends would suggest.

"Actually, the Kingman market is not that bad," Renai Hill, co-owner of 66 Auto Sales on Andy Devine Avenue, said Thursday. "Some people are trading in the gas-guzzlers, and other people are buying them up."

At Martin Swanty's Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealership on Andy Devine Avenue, salesman Gordon Meadville said the community depends on bigger vehicles to haul water, pull trailers and carry construction equipment.

"We're truck country out here," he said.

Jake Potter, another salesman there, said auto sales is no different than any other market that fluctuates with the economy.

"Because the prices are high, we're seeing a lot of people going to a more fuel-efficient car," he said, citing, for example, that Swanty sold more PT Cruisers in March than it had in the previous six months combined. But, a rural community has a reliance on four-wheel-drive vehicles, and Swanty's Dodge Cummins remains a hot seller.

"Our truck market never changes," Potter said.

In March, GM's national sales fell by 19 percent over 2007 numbers, while Ford Motor Co. and Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. fell more than 10 percent. U.S. sales for all automakers plunged 12 percent, the 10th loss in the past 12 months, according to Bloomberg reports.

Anderson Toyota in Kingman, however, nearly hit a sales record last month, coming in just a few shy of reaching 150.

"Our product is doing well," sales manager Rob Smith said. "Traffic is up if anything."

Light trucks and SUVs usually combine to surpass passenger vehicle sales, Smith said, but that isn't the case recently, as drivers more and more are trading larger vehicles for the more fuel-efficient cars. "We're struggling to keep the hybrids in stock right now," he said. But with the Toyota Tundra winning Motor Trend's Truck of the Year award, sales there remain constant.

Diesel and unleaded gas prices hit record highs this week, the former topping $4 a gallon, while regular unleaded rose to an all-time high of $3.289 a gallon nationally, according to a AAA survey.

Hill said she still buys the trucks and SUVs because people feel safe in them, they prefer being higher up in the driver's seat, and in terms of gas prices having an effect, she said Kingman is small enough that commuters aren't as likely to downsize because of distance.

"I really don't think Kingman has felt it," Hill said of the auto industry being impacted by the slow economy. "We're lucky."

Sales tax figures from Lake Havasu City fell 38 percent for new and used car sales through January of this fiscal year, Today's News-Herald reported. Statistics for Kingman do not break down into categories, but overall sales tax revenue is down nearly 8 percent since fiscal years 2007 and 2006, which saw 0.16 percent and 19.81 percent jumps, respectively.