Local car dealers doing well as gas prices rise

Despite nasty high gas prices, car dealers are having a grand old time. Sales are up and that appears to be fueled by people desperate for better fuel economy.

Chrysler Group reported U.S. sales rose 22% in April, the best sales that auto maker has reported for the month since 2008.

Honda Motors reported U.S. vehicle sales grew 9.8% in April, as consumers purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Toyota's U.S. auto sales grew 1.3% in April as the company reported increased demand for its larger vehicles while car sales slightly declined.

Locally, demand is up as well, but complications from the tsunami in Japan are causing delays in getting parts to Honda and some Toyota plants and dealers around the world and the U.S.

Despite this, $4 gas prices are pushing people to turn-in their gas guzzlers for something more fuel efficient.

"It's been a terrific year so far," said Kerry Toyota General Manager Mark Stein, who was pumped sales are up, despite the high gas prices.

"That's a major, motivating factor I think, right now, driving sales is improvement in gas mileage," Stein said.

Sales have turned-around, and are stronger than ever, since that recall debacle only a year earlier.

And now, with the tsunami, supply is tight.

"A few years ago, in the U.S., we had all-time record sales as an industry," Stein said. "And supply, quite frankly, was tight back then."

Stein said he does not anticipate the supply being any tighter this summer than in the best years they've ever had.

"Right now it's pretty easy," he said. "We have a 50 to 55 day supply available, which is a good amount of supply for us."

Kerry salespeople move about 270 to 300 new vehicles a month and are not worried about keeping up with that demand yet.

"Right now, May will be fine," Stein said. "June appears like it's going to be fine, you never know how much sales spike, that could happen at any given time though really, it's a very fluid situation, so we're not sure about July yet."

Toyota trimmed back production a few weeks ago.

"I know some manufacturers have maybe an issue with a paint plant being harmed by the tsunami and can't produce a color," Stein said.

In this gas-conscious economy, there is one word that is driving new car sales and you can find it on the sticker of many new cars, in bold letters, 'hybrid',"

Kerry Toyota cannot keep hybrids, like their super-popular Prius on the lot.

"Of course, the Prius, globally, is the king of hybrids," Stein said. "The undisputed world champion."

Stein said as long as gas remains 4-dollars a gallon, demand for the Prius will stay booming.

"You're going to spend between 22 and 30 thousand dollars," Stein said. "And you're going to get 50 miles to a gallon and you're going to get the most high-tech car available on the road today."

The Prius has high-tech features, like never having to insert your keys into the ignition.

"As long as the key is within 42 inches of the car," said Kerry Salesman Mike Griese. "It's a great feature because if a woman puts it (the key fob) in her purse, she doesn't have to take it out to get in the car, it (the Prius) automatically opens up when you touch the door, then when you have it in the car, you just have to push the button, the car starts, and makes no noise when it starts."

Another positive sign, Stein said, is the consumer credit market is the best he's seen in awhile. Even though some buyers may have so-called bruised credit, trying to fill their tanks and getting behind on their bills, Stein said there are plenty of opportunities for buyers now, than there was 18 months ago.

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