WARREN - Area General Motors Co. dealers paid the price for a big February 2011 with falling sales this past February, but a local dealership manager expects consistent strength the rest of the year.
"Leasing came back last January and February with a strong (sales) push. There are great programs out now, but it's getting back to the norm," John Maze, general manager at Diane Sauer Chevrolet in Warren, said about the dealer's 48.6 percent decline in February sales to 57 new cars and trucks from 111 in the year-ago month.
GM's return to leasing a year ago helped fuel the automaker's comeback from its 2009 bankruptcy. New-vehicle sales in February 2011 rocketed to 797 from 312 in February 2010 but dropped to 415 in the latest February.
"People who needed leases got them last year," Maze said, but added the automaker's fuel-efficient lineup, including the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, the Chevrolet Sonic and the Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze, plus incentives, remains strong enough to attract shoppers.
February sales throughout the Automobile Dealers Association of Eastern Ohio fell 19 percent from a year ago to 1,522, leaving the association down 13.9 percent through the first two months versus last year.
Bob & Chuck Eddy Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Austintown did its best to counter the decline. The dealership saw new-vehicle sales rise 84.5 percent to an association-best 107, edging Taylor Kia's 104 sales.
General Sales Manager Mike Friend credited Cleveland Auto Show rebates that continue through March for the surge, along with manufacturer's prices below the competition and a mild winter that brought out shoppers.
Friend believes the sales trend "will continue as long as the general economy stays solid."
Used-vehicle sales showed an 11.6 percent sales gain in February from last year to 4,127, pushing the year-to-date total up 7.4 percent to 6,925.
In combined new and used sales, Greenwood Chevrolet in Austintown led the association with 229 sales, although that was off 5 percent from last year. Donnell Ford had the best percentage gain at 72.9 percent to 121 vehicles.
Diane Sauer Chevrolet was fifth in total sales at 130, down 27 percent from a year ago.
The Cruze slipped to second behind the Malibu, 90 sales to 96, as the area's most popular new car. The totals were down 56.5 percent for the Cruze and 64.4 percent for the Malibu from last year.
Among new vehicles with at least 30 sales, the Ford Fusion showed the strongest gain at 51.9 percent to 41.