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Auto sales surged in 2015, including at Clark County dealers

U.S. auto sales hit a record high in 2015, helping local dealers and suppliers to the auto industry turn increases in profits.

Fueled by low gas prices and interest rates, national auto sales were expected to reach a record high of 17.5 million cars and trucks in 2015, edging past the old record of 17.35 million set in 2000, reports said Tuesday, when automakers revealed December and full-year sales.

Jay Lawrence, general manager of Jeff Wyler Springfield auto dealerships, said 2015 was a strong year for his eight franchises.

Some dealerships were up, some were down, but overall sales for the franchises were up, Lawrence said. He put the increase at “probably less than 5 percent overall,” but noted that the increase in 2015 came over a record performance in 2014.

“It’s a combination of things,” he said. “I think there is still pent-up demand out there because of the low sales we had in 2010 and 2011.”

Financing is easier, Lawrence said, and banks are lending money to buyers more readily and the weather also cooperated at the end of the year.

Christian Hahn, general manager of Airport Toyota in Vandalia, also enjoyed a great year, he said.

The average age of the car on the road is about 11 years, Hahn said, and it’s been that way for the past several years. For many customers, the need for a new car isn’t going away, he believes.

“We anticipate 2016 being another banner year, and I think it’s evident that the job market has strengthened considerably over the last few years,” Hahn said.

Airport Toyota’s new car sales were up about 7 percent, while used vehicle sales were up about 15 percent, he said.

Strength in auto sales is good news for an array of Southwest Ohio businesses, including manufacturers and companies that serve the industry in myriad ways.

Honda employs about 14,000 people at its West Central Ohio plants, including about 1,400 workers from Clark and Champaign counties. On Tuesday, Honda reported annual sales of 1,586,551 Honda and Acura vehicles, an increase of 3 percent to beat a record set in 2007.

Thomas Schwartz, a spokesman for Kettering’s Reynolds and Reynolds, is well aware that auto sales are stronger than ever.

“That absolutely dovetails with what we’re seeing,” he said.

Reynolds, with 1,300 employees, offers software and other products for auto dealers.

Dealers are taking advantage of the market rebound with some of the newer technologies that Reynolds has to offer — technologies that let dealerships immediately respond to potential sales leads, he said. A new Reynolds product lets dealers immediately respond to comments and questions that come into dealership web sites, he said.

“It’s all about bringing that relationship a little closer,” Schwartz said.

There are far fewer dealers serving consumers today than before the recent “Great Recession.” Nationally, there were about 4,000 more dealerships before the recession of 2007-09, Schwartz said.

And today’s buying landscape is markedly different, he said. With online research and technology shaping their experience, shoppers expect car-buying to be more rewarding, with fewer hassles, he said.

“The consumer expects a different kind of retail experience than, say, eight or ten years ago,” Schwartz said.

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