Local auto dealers see a strange rise in sales

By Bruce Gerstman, Special to the Daily Planet
Sunday October 28, 2001

Some local car dealers, who are experiencing a jump in business, are attributing this phenomenon to two main factors: zero-percent financing and patriotism.  

“Our whole product line is just taking off,” said Larry Stanfield, sales manager for Saturn in Oakland. “This actually started on the 12th of September.” 

Like many competing domestic car manufacturers, Saturn, owned by General Motors, has slashed its loans to zero-percent interest, which has significantly boosted sales.  

“I don’t know how long this is going to last, but I will ride the wave,” Stanfield said. 

According to a Federal Reserve Board report issued this week, zero-interest rates are boosting retail auto sales around the United States. 

Zero-percent financing has strengthened sales at Albany Ford-Subaru, according to John Nakamura, president of the dealership. For the month of October, Nakamura has already matched sales from 2000. With five days remaining, he expects to exceed last year’s numbers by at least 30 percent. 

Nakamura said some patriotic customers want to stimulate the economy.  

“A lot of our customers say they have planned to buy a vehicle in the next few months,” he said. But after the attacks, “they decided to do it now.” 

Sales in Subarus, the foreign brand sold at Albany Ford-Subaru, stayed consistent, according to Nakamura. “The domestic brand is higher,” he said, referring to Fords. “A lot of it might be the Pro-American sentiment.” 

Nakamura is fortunate. In a recent press release, Ford announced its domestic sales were down by nearly 10 percent for the month of September. 

Some East Bay dealers are feeling the pinch too. Sales slipped at Connell Chrysler in Oakland.  

“After our tragedy, we were down about 25 percent” for September, said sales manager Martin Muranishi.  

After joining the competition by offering zero-percent financing, they were able to close the gap; October sales are only 6 percent below last year’s figures. 

Sales have been slumping all year for some foreign auto dealers. According to Jason Kolesnikow, sales manager at Berkeley Nissan-Datsun, sales had been sinking 20 percent throughout 2001 prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. Despite offering zero-percent financing now, sales at Berkeley Nissan-Datsun remain down. 

Confident about his foreign brand sales, Ed Irving, a salesman at Doten Honda, said the company does not plan to follow others who offer zero-interest financing. Honda, he said, is not as worried as domestic manufacturers about the U.S. economy.  

Irving said for the first one-and-a-half weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, customers assumed that Honda wanted to sell its cars quick and cheap. They began coming in looking for bargains, up to $4,000 less than what the dealership paid.  

Irving leaned against a shiny blue showroom model.  

“People were asking for outrageous deals,” he said.