Auto industry success helps fuel economy

BELLAIRE – All signs pointed toward the positive for the automotive industry in August.

General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Nissan all reported double-digit U.S. sales gains.

Gains in small car and truck sales led the way.

Industry analysts say August could be the best sales month since May of 2007 when a the $3 per gallon of gasoline mark was first reached, setting off a panic and boosting the purchase of fuel efficient vehicles.

That trend has held steady clear through 2013.

“Everybody wants good fuel economy,” said Brian Kent, sales manager at Auto Choice in Bellaire. “Everybody is looking for the best fuel economy, whether that is the best mileage in a truck or in a small car.

“That hasn’t seemed to change a whole lot.”

Neither do things locally in the Ohio Valley.

The bust in the housing market, mass unemployment … while the Ohio Valley certainly felt the effects of the economic downturn, those effects were somewhat minimalized when compared to other parts of the country.

As a result, vehicle sales didn’t follow suit of other markets and take such a drastic dip here locally.

So while Auto Choice, much like other dealers in the valley, has seen an increase in sales recently, it’s been up for quite some time.

“We were strong (last month), but we’ve been up for a while,” Kent said.

For Kent and his sales staff, how their customers are treated is equally, if not more, important as the current economic conditions.

Given the fact that during tough times, people are more tight fisted with their money, the extra attention paid to the customer sometimes is the catalyst in deciding whether or not a dealership receives repeat business.

“These people aren’t just customers,” Kent said. “They are our neighbors, our friends, we go to church with them … they are people we see every day.

“That’s why it’s important to treat them well.”

One thing is for certain though. A marked increase in vehicle sales is a good sign for the economy overall.

“The auto industry continues to be the bright spot in the economic recovery,” said Bill Fay, the Toyota division’s group vice president. “August capped a great summer for new vehicle sales.”

Chrysler and GM are predicting that total U.S. sales in August ran at an annual rate above 16 million, a pace last seen before the Great Recession.

The numbers are more proof that businesses are gaining confidence in their economic position as they are buying trucks to replace their aging fleets.

Hughes may be reached at