On Nov. 19, 2008, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York) peered disdainfully over his wire rims at the three auto company executives who had arrived for this congressional hearing in their corporate jets. “That’s like going to the soup kitchen in a high hat and tuxedo,” Ackerman acidly remarked.
The three guys — from Chrysler, Ford, and G.M. — were sweating under the bright lights of congressional scrutiny because they had run their iconic American companies into the ground to the tune of $25 billion. The American taxpayer would eventually bail them out.
“We’ve seen more confidence in the local economy, and there are terrific lending rates as low as zero percent.” – Kevin Holdorf
Local car dealerships said recently that sales are improving in Hudson County, too, and talked about what local residents are buying.
Civics and Accords popular
Christopher Tropiano, the general manager of Hudson Honda in West New York, said that Civics and Accords were selling “very well.” No surprise there. The Honda Accord is the second best-selling car in the United States. Consumer Reports gave the Accord sedan high marks, and, according The Washington Post, it earned top scores in the federal government’s newly revised, tougher crash tests. The 2011 model also gets better gas mileage than its predecessor.
Tropiano said the CR-V, Honda’s smallest SUV, is another winner. “Consumer confidence has changed,” Tropiano said, “and the factories themselves are offering nice incentives and leasing programs to help consumers.”
Better buys, more buyers
At Hudson Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge in Jersey City, sales are booming. Sales Manager John Goncalves reported that sales of Dodge Rams have doubled and those of Grand Cherokees have tripled. The Grand Cherokee was anointed Reader’s Digest Truck of the Year, which is a good way to bring customers onto the lot.
The Chrysler Town & Country minivan was a top seller in 2010, and five cars — Dodge Avenger, Dodge Journey, Chrysler 200, Jeep Patriot, and Grand Cherokee — were awarded top safety picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“The 2011 models are different and nicer,” Goncalves said. “They have new interiors, new engines, body styling, and suspension.”
These product enhancements are bringing customers back. “The economy is also changing and getting better,” Goncalves said. “It’s turning around, and we have more buyers.”
Peter Walsh, managing partner, Hudson Kia, Jersey City, agrees. “Definitely, people are coming in,” he said. “Banks seem to be getting more active in participation, giving loans out to people, and working along with us to put them in a car.”
Those cars are getting great reviews. “From the L. A. Times, the New York Times, Automotive News, and the auto industry itself,” Walsh said, “and they all have good crash ratings.” Walsh singled out the Optima, Soul, and Sorento.
“People are coming into the showroom because they they’d put off buying a car for a long time and are starting to need cars,” he said. “We have the right product and the right market.”
From good to better
“We’re lucky with the products; we were one of the few that survived and didn’t go out of business,” said Kevin Holdorf, general manager, Bellavia Chevrolet/Buick in East Rutherford. “Chevy and Buck are the hottest brands right now. The Buck Regal and Buick Lacrosse were highly recommended by Motor Trend.”
He also pointed to the popularity of the new Chevy Cruze compact, the Malibu, the redesigned Equinox, and the Chevrolet Volt, which was awarded Motor Trend Car of the Year.
“There was a big turnaround,” Holdorf said. “We’ve seen more confidence in the local economy, and there are terrific lending rates as low as zero percent. The business has also grown in sales and service. Next year we plan to update and enlarge our service area.”
And there was even good news for the unemployment rate: “We were so busy we had to add salespeople,” he said. “I’ve been here 24 years, and many on the sales staff have been here 16 years or longer. The longevity of the staff made a difference. People see the same faces and refer friends and family.”
All of which says “stability” to prospective customers. “We have repeat customers because of our long standing in the community,” Holdorf said. “We treat customers the way we want to be treated. We give to the community and the community gives back.”
That big cat on the high end
Dennis Squitieri, president, Bergen Jaguar in Paramus and Madison Jaguar in Madison, said that sales of new cars in 2010 at Madison were up 32 percent, and those in Paramus were up 17 percent over the previous year.
“There are three reasons that consumer confidence is better,” he said. “We have a lot of new product, the product is reliable, and consumers’ perception of where the country is at is better.” He draws the analogy of Neiman Marcus removing its logo from its shopping bags during the recession because customers didn’t want to flaunt their wealth. “They also didn’t want to drive a brand new car like a Jaguar into the parking lot while telling employees there would be no raises, bonuses, or a Christmas party,” he said. “That’s over with.”
Other pluses are a new five-year, 50,000-mile warranty and two new luxury sedans, the XJ and four-door XF. One thing Jaguar always has going for it is aesthetics. Says Squitieri: “It’s low, sleek, feline, ready to pounce, agile like a jaguar.”
In fact, the XK-E, on display at the Museum of Modern Art, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Enzo Ferrari himself dubbed it “the most beautiful car ever made,” according to Squitieri. “That,” he says, “is like Mario Batali liking your sauce.”
Kate Rounds can be reached at email@example.com..