After years of 10 percent and 20 percent gains, Spokane-area car and truck sales leveled off in 1994, with new car sales down slightly and new truck sales up slightly.
Total new car registrations decreased about 5 percent, from 13,908 in 1993 to 13,147 in 1994, according to auto licensing statistics provided by the Spokane New Car Dealers Association. New truck registrations were up about 8 percent, from 5,172 in 1993 to 5,785 in 1994.
Pessimists should not worry that the numbers reflect a weakening economy, said a local analyst.
“It’s not that we’re plummeting, it’s just that we’re coming off of some very strong numbers in a very strong period,” said Phil Kuharski, vice president of investments at Prudential Securities.
“If you’re plateauing at pretty high levels, it’s still a good signal. I see no reason to raise the yellow flag,” said Kuharski, who has analyzed the Spokane economy since 1961.
He noted that the numbers may reflect the Federal Reserve’s efforts to curb the risk of inflation by increasing interest rates. The Fed has increased rates seven times in the past year in hopes of slowing consumer spending, which climbed to a record $904 billion in 1994.
“That’s exactly what fed wants - a slowdown. It’s trying to curb the exuberance of recent spending frenzies,” Kuharski said.
Local dealers for Buick, Honda, Pontiac and Nissan gained the most last year, but no automobile make gained more than 20 percent. Chrysler, Hyundai, Oldsmobile and Subaru were the biggest losers, with no make losing more than 30 percent of sales over 1993.
Local dealers are nonplussed about the statistics.
“The media hype is that national sales are up, and that reflects sales predominantly in the Northeast and California: places where the economy was relatively bad in the past few years,” said Chris Marr, president of Spokane New Car Dealers Association.
“But in Spokane, we are just hoping that it stays consistent,” he said. “We aren’t anticipating a real big upswing for ‘95, and that’s OK.” He added that local car sales reflected a “strong, consistent market.”
Registrations are not a mirror image of sales, but rather a reflection of broad trends. The figures include cars purchased outside Spokane County and registered here, and do not include cars bought here and registered elsewhere.
“Overall it may be a good indicator, but you’ve got to be a little careful about these statistics; they skew the facts,” Marr said.
He added that the number of new cars registered here also includes fleet, or rent-a-car, registrations of cars not bought by Spokane County residents or businesses.
Other dealers mentioned that the sales slowdown reflected their difficulties keeping pace with consumers’ unsatiated demand for popular models.
The Honda Accord was one of the top sellers in Spokane County and nationwide. But overall sales would have been better if Honda dealerships could have stocked more five-speed manual transmissions and Passports, Honda’s new sport/utility vehicle, said the sales manager at Honda of Spokane.