Largest car dealer here experiences sales gains

January 23, 2010
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Twenty-eight manufacturers sold cars and trucks in the U.S. last year, but only three recorded nationwide sales gains in 2009. All three were foreign-based automakers, and Fox Motors owns dealerships for all three.

Only two of those registered sales increases for Fox Motors, the state’s second largest dealership that is owned by Dan and Pamella DeVos. However, one domestic automaker was a big seller for Fox, while nationwide in 2009, sales for those cars and trucks were down.

Hyundai, Kia and Subaru were the only manufacturers to sell more vehicles in the nation last year than in 2008. Hyundai sales were up by 8.3 percent, Kia by 9.3 percent and Subaru by 15.4 percent, according to motorintelligence.com.

Fox Motors had increases in Kia and Subaru, but not in Hyundai sales.

“It’s kind of a mixed bag. Michigan isn’t faring as well as other states, as you can imagine, so we had gains, but not as significant as the national average,” said Diane Maher, senior vice president, CFO and COO for Fox Motors.

Maher said sales of Hyundai vehicles were down last year in the state and for Fox. Kia sales were up slightly statewide and at Fox. But Subaru sales at Fox were up by 29 percent last year, higher than the 22 percent increase across the state.

“So we did better here on Subaru than the state. But for some reason, Hyundai and Kia don’t seem to be able to get the same results in this market. Subaru seems to be more of a quirky buyer,” she said.

“I think it’s the economy in West Michigan, and those two particular brands are maybe not as well received in the area as other brands because our Ford stores are way up here,” she added.

Ford sales fell nationwide last year by 15.4 percent, while at Fox Motors they were up by 25 percent. “All we’re able to conclude here is that Grand Rapids seems to be more loyal to a domestic brand,” said Maher.

Maher said the Fox Hyundai sales people were a bit disappointed that the automaker’s Assurance Program didn’t result in more cars being sold. The program offered to repurchase a car if a buyer lost a job.

But she said the federal government’s Cars for Clunkers incentive performed fairly well for the Hyundai and Kia dealerships, and Ford sales benefited from it, too.

Maher said Fox Motors will be heavily involved with the Michigan International Auto Show, which opens to the public next week Thursday in DeVos Place. A charity event will be held the previous evening. This year’s show marks the 12th consecutive year the Grand Rapids New Car Dealers Association is sponsoring the event, which Showspan Inc. produces.

“We will have people there working it and we’re expecting a good turnout,” said Maher.

Fox Motors will have almost all of its lines at the show, which number about a dozen. The lineup includes cars from Nissan but not from Saab.

“Actually, Nissan didn’t support (the show) but we’re paying to have Nissan there because we feel it’s important to support the show,” said Maher. “But because of what is going on with Saab, they’re not going to be there.”

Of course, Maher was referring to an attempt by a Luxembourg private equity fund, Genii Capital, to buy the Swedish carmaker from General Motors. Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Corp. and Spyker Cars, a Dutch firm, reportedly also have expressed an interest in purchasing Saab. Maher said GM officials haven’t told her anything new about either a pending sale or an outright liquidation of the automaker.

“They are saying they are still talking to a couple of groups. But they can’t really tell dealers anything and they’re going through an orderly wind down as these conversations are happening,” she said.

Saab holds a special meaning at Fox Motors, as the line represents the beginning of the company when it purchased Keenan Saab in 2000.

Only 10.4 million new cars and trucks were sold in the U.S. last year — down by 21.2 percent from 2008. Auto analysts have predicted higher sales for this year.

“Everyone is saying sales should get to the 12 or 12.5 million mark,” said Maher. “I’ve heard anywhere from a 10 to 20 percent increase year-over-year in new car sales.”

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