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‘It’s a buyer’s market’
Car dealers gear up for strong ’08 finish
Car Shopping 1 es
Chris Edwards, left, buys a car from Andean Chevrolet salesman David Wilson on Dec. 3 during a red tag event. In the foreground is a 2009 Corvette convertible. Most car dealerships are running end-of-year promotions. - photo by Emily Saunders
Sales are down across the board, but Forsyth County’s car dealers are hoping for a merry Christmas.

“Factories usually have their best incentives of the year around this time, and [with] the incentives this year, this has been the cheapest last three-month period to buy a vehicle that’s ever happened in history,” said Bill Howell, vice president of Billy Howell Ford Lincoln-Mercury.

“The week after Christmas and before New Year’s is one of our biggest weeks of the year.”

Howell said he’s got about $10 million worth of cars on the lot. Howell said he’d like to sell about $10.5 million, including the remaining 2008 models, before the end of the year.

Business is also down for Troncalli Chrysler Dodge Jeep Subaru.

“We’re off by about 3 percent,” said sales manager Steve Fricks.

Like Howell, Fricks hopes that deals and rebates will stimulate 2008 sales.

“We always have a good end of the year, but the rebates are a little more amped up,” he said. “They’re giving dealers more incentives to sell during the tough times.

“Banks are more eager to do business now than they were, so rebates are better, interest rates are down. Now is a great time to buy a car.”

With the country’s top three automakers, Ford, GM and Chrysler in financial crisis, Americans have been cautious about purchasing a car.

“The uncertainty of talking about the bailout, that can’t be good for any of the car businesses, whether you’re a domestic or an import dealer,” said Jim Otwell, president of Andean Chevrolet.

Andean’s sales are down due to several factors, including tighter lending standards from GMAC Financial Services.

“You had to have like a 700 beacon score before they would finance somebody,” Otwell said.

“I think a lot of customers don’t realize that we have other banking sources other than GMAC.

“It was also due to gas going over $4 a gallon. That hurt the trucks and SUV sales.”

Fricks said national news of banks tightening their lending is damaging business more than anything.

“It’s giving the perception that you can’t get a car, that banks don’t loan money,” he said. “It definitely hurts. If they quit talking about it, I think it will be a lot better.”

Still, incentives, end-of-year tradition and falling gas prices are fueling optimism.

Otwell, Fricks and Howell all hope to finish the year on a high end.

“Now is a good time to buy a new car,” Otwell said. “It’s a buyer’s market.”

E-mail Jennifer Sami at