Wednesday February 20, 2013

BENNINGTON -- Area new car dealerships reported good sales in 2012, spurred by new releases and redesigns. Driving an overall nearly 14 percent increase over 2011, national figures topped 14.5 million new vehicles sold last year.

Not only a sign of an improving economy, Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda saw increases of 27 and 24 percent respectively after their own recovery in production following natural disasters in Asia in 2011. And independent analysts like the Polk research firm predict only better sales this year. Bennington Subaru Sales Manager Tommy Lyons II said new car sales were becoming a "big internet-based business."

"It's been evolving," he said, till today when customers walk in and "everyone knows, A, what they are going to pay, and B, they know down to a T what they want."

Lyons said local Subaru sales boomed with last year's redesign of the Impreza, which was "way up in sales" because of its big improvement in fuel mileage. Better economy was a common refrain at multiple dealers: a result of increasing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and consumer demand. "People (just) don't want to drive 20 mpg," said Lyons.

Indicative of a strong market, several dealerships either expanded or opened new locations in the past 18 months. Patrick Johnson, the general manager at Stephen's Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Bennington, reported a great reception since the dealer opened on North Street last September.


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"We've acquired some outstanding customers," Johnson said.

"We're here to help people," he continued. Yes, they'll sell you a car, "but we also help make sure they buy the right vehicle." A second location for owner Stephen Rucinski, Johnson said what's not available in Bennington can typically be found the same day at the main dealership in Greenwich, N.Y. Among the Chrysler group's top sellers locally, Johnson said Jeeps had comprised the largest portion percentage-wise.

Another dealership to recently open new doors, 2012 was the first full year for Carbone's Hyundai and Ford franchises in Bennington after opening mid-2011. Craig Salerno, general sales manager for Carbone's Honda and Toyota franchises on North Bennington Road, said last year was a definite improvement for all four brands.

Salerno said there were a lot of effects prompting sales, including hybrids taking off and many redesigns, especially "all of our core models" with respect to Toyota. Low lending rates also helped with financing, he said.

Prompting more new releases were continuous advancements in features. "The technology changes so fast," said Salerno, quickening the rotation of redesigns. "Lots and lots of new technology."

Over in New York in Greenwich, Whalen Chevrolet completed a large renovation and remodel through the course of 2012 as part of Chevy's "blue arch program." Owner/Vice President Tim Whalen said the dealer had wanted to expand for quite some time. "Everything's been favorable," he said, with customers complimenting the recently finished space, which still fits into the area and is also instantly recognizable as a Chevy franchise.

Given Whalen's location right at a stoplight on state Route 29, "everybody followed it every day of the project," said Whalen, which "made it kind of fun." The remodeling included tearing the front of the building off and adding 9,600 square feet of offices and new showroom space. The work included all offices and departments, and the service area which was reconfigured and received new lifts. The project "pretty much touched everything."

Whalen said work progressed smoothly and did not appear to affect business in 2012, a strong year he said. "And 2013 is starting off pretty strong (as well). ... I'm optimistic with 2013. I think it's a good year ahead of us." He said Chevy's newest offerings -- the Sonic, Cruze, and Malibu -- contributed to sales.