Zero-percent it and they will come.
This seems to be the motto of mid-range car dealers in the East Bay who for several months have been offering free financing in hopes of boosting car sales. The Labor Day week was no exception, as final-clearance sales lured in customers.
“Our wives are sunbathing and kids are asleep and we heard about this great deal with zero-percent financing,” said Archan Joshi, one of the hundreds who showed up at the Fremont Auto Mall last weekend.
Mid-range dealers in the East Bay said sales over the holiday almost measured up to what they’ve seen in previous years. But year-to-date totals have been low compared to prior years.
Some dealers suggested that the East Bay has been relatively lucky during the recent economic slowdown and that automobile sales have suffered less than in other areas of California.
Billy Tave, a sales representative at McKevitt Volvo on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, said auto retailers in Berkeley have fared better than their counterparts around the bay.
David Zaman, a sales representative at Auto Warehouse of Oakland, agreed that the East Bay was better off and said San Jose and Silicon Valley had been hit harder.
“Sales are fine,” added Mark Fitzgerald, general manager at the Val Strough Company on Auto Row in Oakland. The economy “obviously affected us, but now [sales are] maybe a little below average,” he said.
The small slump in car sales this year follows three years of record-high sales, according to the National Automobiles Dealers Association. Still, the weak economy is reflected in sales that are slightly lower than during the late 1990s economic boom.
About 1.7 million new cars were sold nationwide in August, a high car sales month, according to NADA. That’s just over 17 percent more than cars sold in August 2001.
The dealers association forecasts sales of 16.8 million this calendar year, a projected drop of almost 2 percent from the 17.1 million sold last year.
Mike Ahmadi, a sales consultant at Connell Auto Center on Broadway Avenue in Oakland, said his dealership, too, has seen a slight dropoff this year.
“The economy’s been bad for six months, but has picked up the last three weeks,” Ahmadi said.
Labor Day played into the recent upswing in sales.
“The Labor Day weekend is almost a traditional day to buy cars in America,” said Shacon Shokoor, a sales manager at Fremont’s Autowest Honda who has been in the business for 15 years.
“Sales double over the Labor Day weekend. Look at our deals,” said Marcus Rahimi, looking over his fleet of new Mitsubishis on a lot in Fremont. “This last year has been very, very slow, but summer time it increased. Because of the special deals, the manufacturer does suffer in terms of profits but we get much more traffic.”