Spokane County loves its trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles.
But the price of fun may have been too high for many who had hoped to drive off the car lot in a new rig last year.
Ending years of growth - and bucking a national trend - the number of new trucks and sport utility vehicles registered in Spokane County dropped a whopping 19 percent in 1995.
That meant about 1,000 fewer new minivans, trucks and sporty four-wheel-drive rigs moved off the lots of 23 competing dealerships.
New car sales also declined - but at a slower rate of only 8 percent.
Dealers blamed the sales slowdown on accelerating sticker prices which have outpaced wages in Spokane, where workers on average earn less than those in the rest of the state and nation.
“The average family just can’t afford the price of new cars these days,” said Chris Camp, sales manager at Camp Automotive Inc. “They’re turning more to used cars.”
For example, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the popular 1996 Ford Explorer was $19,600 to $34,800, according to Chrome Data, a Portland-based research group. But the median household income in Spokane is only about $22,000, meaning nearly half of all households earn less in an entire year than it costs to buy an Explorer with relatively few added options.
Registrations of new trucks and sport utility vehicles fell from 5,353 in 1994 to 4,334 last year, according to the Spokane New Car Dealers Association.
Vehicle registrations are a gauge of consumer activity but are not synonymous with sales because owners can register their cars and trucks in any county or state.
The number of registrations of new passenger cars also declined for the second consecutive year. Registrations dropped 1,008 units, or 8 percent, from 12,928 in 1994 to 11,920 in 1995. The sharpest declines were among foreign-made cars.
New car sales are considered a key economic indicator, so a drop of 2,000 units is significant. If the average new vehicle sold for $15,000, a drop of 1,000 units would be a $30 million loss to the economy.
Yearly vehicle sales figures were not available for North Idaho. But a tally of new vehicle registrations since June showed sales of truck and sport utility rigs outselling passenger cars by a 2-to-1 ratio at 22 competing dealerships.
The most popular truck or sport utility vehicle in Spokane County were Ford pickup trucks, according to Cross-Sell, a Louisville-based marketing research firm. Other leaders were the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet pickups, Dodge Caravan and Nissan Pathfinder.
The decline in new truck and van registrations in Spokane runs counter to the nation. Manufacturers sold 6.13 million rigs in 1995, up 400,000 from the previous year, said officials at Automotive News, a Detroit-based trade journal. Passenger car sales totaled 8.63 million, down from 9 million in 1994.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Vehicle sales