Orange County's automotive market grew by 31 percent in the first quarter over the same time last year, as 31,412 new cars rolled off the lots. While that figure is still below average levels – for example, new-vehicle sales are down 40 percent compared to the first quarter of 2005 – the market's recovery has gained steam, according to a new study from the local dealers agency.
The Orange County Automobile Dealers Association's first-quarter report suggests that the majority of the factors affecting new-vehicle sales in the county "point to sustained improvement."
Positive indicators include increasing household net worth; strengthening debt levels; an easing in the county's unemployment rate; strong auto affordability; and high pent-up demand. Consumer sentiment, on the other hand, has a "mixed" impact on local auto sales, as it continues its slow recovery.
"Consumers are concerned about their current and future economic well-being, and as a result, a quick return to record-high new-vehicle sales in the county is unlikely," according to the report.
Meanwhile, the county's first-quarter new-vehicle sales outperformed the U.S.; the national increase in purchases totaled 27.6 percent.
Locally, Japanese brands led local new-vehicle registrations last month, with 16,282 autos sold. It's a 24.8 percent uptick over the same time in 2010. In terms of percentage gains, Korean brands saw the largest spike in the local market. Approximately 2,858 of those autos were sold – and that's up a whopping 119.2 percent from the same period last year.
Within that segment, Fountain Valley-based Hyundai saw a 114.3 percent gain, with 2,074 autos sold. Irvine-based Kia reported that its sales jumped 133.3 percent; 784 closed new-car transactions were reported.
But domestic brand Jeep also experienced a meaty gain; the company's auto sales increased 92.1 percent over the same time last year. A total of 513 cars rolled off the lots.
In total, the domestic market grew by 40.4 percent; 6,030 of those cars rolled off the lots. European brands saw a 17.3 percent increase, with 6,242 autos sold.
"With new vehicle sales up more than 30 percent in the first quarter, it's clear a strong recovery is under way," said OCADA Executive Director John Sackrison. "Orange County continues to outpace the nation and improvements in the economy, consumer confidence and demand will continue to fuel strong new-vehicle sales in 2011."
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