Beige Book: Demand for Fuel-Efficient Cars Helps Push Sales for Dealers
By Joe Overby, Staff Writer
July 20, 2012
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Consumers clamored for fuel-friendly rides and dealers throughout the bulk of the country posted improvements in auto sales, according to the latest Beige Book report from the Federal Reserve.
Some of the 12 Federal Reserve Districts also pointed to strong leasing levels and used-vehicle sales, specifically.
Overall, the progress of auto dealers appeared, yet again, as one of the bright spots on the Fed's national economic analysis.
"Retail sales increased slightly in all reporting Districts except Boston and Cleveland, where sales were categorized as flat, and New York, where sales softened," the Fed noted, referring to the overall retail market (including sectors beyond automotive).
"Of the Districts that saw an increase in activity, most noted strength in auto sales. In particular, auto dealers noted that demand for fuel-efficient vehicles continued to support sales," officials continued.
For instance, in the Tenth District (Kansas City), fuel-friendly rides fared much better when compared to their heavier counterparts.
"Auto sales climbed sharply and were expected to remain solid for the next few months with more dealers offering sales incentives and discounts," officials said of this region. "Fuel-efficient cars sold well, while demand for large, expensive cars and trucks remained weak. "
Furthermore, the incentives on fuel-efficient vehicles were counted as one of the key drives to overall auto sales growth in the Seventh District (Chicago).
Specifically, the Fed explained that the improvement here was "driven in large part by fleet sales and an increase in manufacturers' incentives on new fuel efficient vehicles."
Officials added: "Inventory levels were little changed, but some auto dealers indicated that they were adjusting their inventory mix to include more fuel-efficient vehicles in order to meet increased demand."
Interestingly enough, one of the main factors for the market in the Twelfth District (San Francisco) remaining solid was the bounce-back for Japanese brands.
"The sales pace for new automobiles stayed high, bolstered in part by pent-up demand for Japanese brands whose inventories have returned to normal after being constrained by last year's natural disaster in that country," the Fed pointed out.
Elsewhere, the Second District (New York) also reported a strong auto market, as contacts there pointed to strong leasing numbers, service department business, used sales, new sales and more.
"Auto dealers in upstate New York report positive results. Sales of new vehicles were up noticeably from a year ago in May and are projected to be up modestly in June," officials reported.
"Leasing activity and business at dealers' service departments have been robust since the last report. Dealers also report strong sales and elevated prices for used vehicles," they added. "Wholesale and retail credit conditions remain favorable, though one contact reports that banks have reined in lending for used vehicles."
Down in the Third District (Philadelphia), the market was more of a mixed bag. Results tended to vary from state to state, the Fed reported.
"Retail sales and auto sales continued to increase, but at paces that varied across sectors and states," it stated.
For example, Pennsylvania saw sales level off last month after a hot April and May. Meanwhile, New Jersey dealers reported a flipside of that: sales got hotter in June following "more modest growth" the two preceding months.
Sharing more commentary from this region, the Fed stated: "Industry contacts report that fluctuating gas prices are delaying some purchases by elevating uncertainty among buyers weighing their options between trucks and SUVs versus high-efficiency automobiles.
"Very low borrowing costs for inventories continue to support dealers' profitability, while demand for dealer services and repairs remains low," officials added. "The outlook for auto sales remains generally positive, although dealers are concerned that increased consumer uncertainty will not support further growth in sales through the third quarter."
Discussing the Fourth District (Cleveland), the Fed found dealers saw a more "steady" auto market in the preceding six weeks than they did earlier in the second quarter.
"Any slowdowns were attributed to seasonal factors or a poor inventory mix, although most dealers are satisfied with their inventory positions. Volume was higher on a year-over-year basis," the Fed stated. "Dealers reported that sales of fuel-efficient vehicles and trucks are doing particularly well. Leasing continued to grow in popularity."
Looking forward, dealers are "cautiously optimistic" in this region about the rest of 2012 and a good chunk believe full-year 2012 sales will be stronger than 2011.
Adding more insight about the Fourth District, officials stated: "Purchases of used vehicles were fairly steady on a year-over-year basis, although some dealers were unhappy with the quality of their inventory. Hiring for sales and service positions was at a very slow pace. Difficulty in finding qualified service technicians has resulted in some wage pressure."
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