Updated: January 8, 2014 at 9:45 pm
Despite a sluggish December, new vehicle registrations in El Paso County rose to an eight-year high last year as local buyers took advantage of low interest rates to replace older, less fuel-efficient vehicles with new models that were easier on the wallet at the gasoline pump.
The 23,797 new vehicles registered in the county last year was up 6.9 percent from 2012 and the highest annual total since 24,251 vehicles were registered in 2005, according to a report from the El Paso County Clerk & Recorder's office.
Registrations have increased four consecutive years since falling to a 39-year low in 2009.
But they ended 2013 on weak note, declining in December by 17.6 percent compared with December 2012. It was the biggest year-over-year percentage decline since August 2012.
Overall, 2013's dramatic sales increase didn't surprise one Colorado Springs economist.
"This was expected because there was still pent-up demand in the market. You still see a lot of older vehicles on the road and there is a continued push for fuel efficiency with gasoline prices still above $3 a gallon," said Tom Binnings, a senior partner in Summit Economics LLC, a local economic research firm.
Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, attributed the slow December sales to a late Thanksgiving holiday, which reduced the length of the holiday selling season, and unusually cold weather early in the month, which kept potential buyers away from outdoor car lots.
Registrations surged during 2013 for U.S. manufacturers Chevrolet and Dodge, increasing 23.7 percent and 27.6 percent, respectively, from a year earlier, while registrations for Korean imports Hyundai and Kia were both down by double-digit levels. The top selling makes included Ford, Toyota, Honda, Subaru and Chevrolet.
Jerry Colten, owner and operator of two Al Serra Chevrolet dealerships and a Volkswagen dealership in Colorado Springs, said Chevrolet sales were helped by introductions last year of new fuel-efficient models, while sales of large sport-utility vehicles declined.
"We are selling more Cruzes, Malibus, Sonics as well as the Equinox sport-utility vehicle and fewer Tahoes and Suburbans because of the attention to fuel consumption," Colten said. "People who had delayed purchasing a vehicle were able to get great financing rates since there were plenty of zero-percent deals out there."
Jim White, general manager and partner of Phil Long Ford of Chapel Hills, said a greater emphasis on subcompact and small sport utility models helped generate a 10 percent sales increase for the dealership last year and should continue feeding strong sales into this year.
Statewide, new vehicle registrations were up 11.2 percent last year from 2012 despite declining 2 percent in December.
Jackson said sales still have room to grow since registrations finished last year 15 percent below the peak level reached before the 2008 recession.
Nationwide, Autodata Corp. reported that U.S. new car and light truck sales in 2013 increased 7.6 percent from the previous year to 15.6 million with light trucks accounting for most of the increase. December sales were nearly flat with a year earlier at 1.36 million.
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