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Auto dealers continue growth after coralling more sales in 2012

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Talk during the recession about the auto industry’s demise has vanished at dealerships in the north country, where sales began an uphill climb in 2012 and have gotten even stronger during the first half of 2013.

Auto dealers from Watertown say the turnaround in 2012 was buoyed by the so-called “full nest” of military troops from Fort Drum during the spring and summer. Unusually strong sales this year, they say, have been fueled mainly by consumers who were waiting for the economy to improve before buying, said Richard E. Weigand, vice president of operations for Davidson Auto Group. Davidson’s Chevy, Nissan and Ford dealerships have posted a 40 percent increase in year-to-date sales compared with the same period in 2012.

“The overall health of the economy is improving, and there’s a lot more consumer confidence,” Mr. Weigand said. “People who were on the sidelines in 2010, 2011 and 2012 are now buying. They waited and waited and waited, so there was a lot of pent-up demand. Generally speaking, the auto market in the area is up 10 to 12 percent this year; but we’re up 40 percent for all our brands.”

Many of the Davidson customers who waited to buy are small-business owners, Mr. Weigland said. Though military troop levels this summer are lower than last year because of deployments, he said, the major boost in sales from business owners has overshadowed that.

“Military sales were around 30 percent last year when there were more troops, but it’s probably about 15 percent now,” he said. But “we have a lot of small-business owners here. They don’t replace trucks and vans when they don’t have confidence, but when business picks up, they’re willing to buy.”

Also reflecting that trend is the number of new vehicle registrations in Jefferson County recorded in May. Compared with May 2012, the number jumped 11 percent from 474 to 526; truck registrations increased 56 percent from 78 to 122.

Year-to-date sales at the Waite Toyota-Scion dealership, 18406 Route 11, are up 60 vehicles compared with the same period in 2012, said General Manager Darrick N. Pleskach. The dealership in the fall opened a renovated service center next door at the former Davidson Ford store, which Mr. Pleskach said has helped strengthen sales by increasing inventory and adding employees.

Mr. Pleskach attributed about 20 percent of sales at the dealership to military families. He said more military members are buying cars this year, even though more troops were here during the spring and summer of 2012.

Military families “have definitely had a positive impact, and we have a high customer retention of our previous military customers,” he said.

F.X. Caprara Auto Sales has come out of the gate with stronger sales in the first half of 2013 than 2012, said William F. Caprara, co-owner of Caprara Bros. First-quarter vehicle sales this year at its Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership, 18476 Route 11, increased 22.6 percent compared with the first quarter last year, jumping from 393 to 482. Mr. Caprara said the dealership is expecting to build off the increase in sales it posted in 2012, when more military families bought vehicles.

“Fort Drum is the major economic engine that keeps us running here,” he said. “We’ve continued to have steady growth in military sales, which is about 25 percent of our business. But I think overall, the growth this year has been because of the improved economy.”

Last week, F.X. Caprara announced it bought the Iron Block Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership at 17890 Goodnough St., Adams Center. Called F.X. Caprara Harley-Davidson, the business is now open seven days a week. Mr. Caprara said a grand opening will be hosted in mid-August.

William A. Fucillo, owner of Fuccillo Imports Inc., was unavailable for comment.

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