Local Auto Dealers Hoping to Increase Car Sales

KAILUA (KHNL) -- As the economy slows, island auto dealers are hoping to reverse a discouraging trend, lower new car and truck sales.

After reaching a peak just two years ago, car and truck sales in Hawaii have been dropping and are now under what they consider healthy for the industry and the economy.

While the lots are full of cars at many dealerships, the customers just aren't coming in like they used to.

"Overall we're probably off about 20% for this year,"said Mike McKenna, a car dealer.

Drivers are putting the brakes on sales of certain cars because of high gas prices, but others are still a draw.

"The economy cars are doing better than any, cause people are conscientious to fuel," said McKenna.

These big diesel truck are also doing well because they get better gas mileage.

According to the industry, the drop in sales is also from falling home values and more consumer debt. Which force some to wait to get a new ride until it becomes a neccessity not a luxury.

"The majority of people we're selling cars to now, they need a new car, it's not just they're tired of the old one," McKenna said.

Meanwhile this recently released report, shows many drivers are holding on to their vehicles longer. Half of all the cars around the country, are 9 years old or older while 50% of trucks last at least seven years."

Why is tracking vehicle sales in Hawaii important?

"The car sales figures are the harbinger of what is about to happen with the economy, they are the canary in the coal mine," said Dave Rolf with the Auto Dealers Association.

Historically, when car sales went up so did the economy, but when they dropped the economy slowed.

But dealers pain can turn into consumers gain when it comes to buying cars.

"This is the best time, cause everyone is screaming for business and the dealers will make some great deals," McKenna said.

Both the industry and individual dealers are hoping next week's auto show and this springs's tax rebates will get more drivers into new cars this year.