Car sales down despite rock bottom prices

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - There's only one way to describe things for auto dealers right now.

"They've been slow," said Astro Chevrolet Internet Sales Manager Jimmy Hall.  He says the downturn is affecting dealerships nationwide.

"There'll be some smaller ones that probably will fold; some big ones have folded," says Hall.

It's no surprise. Troubled banks and a falling stock market make it hard for people to start paying for a long-term investment like a car.  The auto bailout that's hung up in Congress doesn't help matters.  Crown Chrysler Dodge owner Robert Dalgo believes the controversy surrounding the bailout slows business even more.

"There are more things that people have to think about. They're holding off," says Dalgo.  "And I don't blame them."

That doesn't change the fact that people aren't buying cars unless they have to.  "It's more need based than 'hey I want a new car,'" said Dalgo.

He estimated his business has dropped 30% since the summer.  With Chrysler's uncertain future, more trouble could be looming.  Chrysler dealerships across the country employ more than 160,000 people.  If the company folds, all of those people will lose their jobs.

"The manufacturer has to stay in business for us to stay in business," he said.  "We could sell used cars, but that's about it."

That's exactly what he's been doing.  New cars used to be the biggest seller, but since the economy started turning downward, used cars are the ones leaving the lot and the more expensive new models are the ones staying put.  But the bad economy has pushed prices down on all of them.  Even the new cars are discounted.  In fact, anyone who can afford it, can find an opportunity in the auto market.

"When you see a deal like that, or something you've wanted, now's the time to go ahead and do it because it's not gonna get any lower," Dalgo said.  "Its kindof a buyer's market.  Just like houses. If you're looking to buy a house right now it's a pretty good time."

Local dealers are confident that things will turn around.

"Everybody needs a vehicle. I know everybody's holding on to their pennies through the holidays, and being cautious," Hall says.  "At some point they'll buy them."

Dalgo agrees.  "It will pick up we just gotta wait it out."