Austin-area new car sales continued to drag along in the third quarter, continuing a lackluster year for the region’s dealers.
Sales of new vehicles were flat in September and are down 1.7 percent through three quarters, according to data from Dallas-based Freeman Auto Report, which tracks new vehicle registrations in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop, Burnet, Blanco and Caldwell counties.
The numbers are in line with national figures that reflect slowing demand for new vehicle sales, perhaps a sign that dealers have exhausted pent-up demand from the last recession, some say.
“The industry is pretty flat right now,” said Allen Clauss, general manager at First Texas Honda. He said it seems “all the demand brewing while the economy was rebuilding — that huge growth — that now the auto business is going to kind of flatten out.”
Auto sales are considered a key indicator of an area’s consumer confidence, as purchases of big-ticket items tend to indicate consumers aren’t worried about their jobs or the economy.
Last year, a strong local economy and population growth fueled an 8 percent jump in sales. But this year continues to lag behind those numbers.
September’s tepid local sales figures fall in line with a national decline for U.S. auto dealers. In October, forecasts are projecting another decline, but experts remain hopeful with end-of-year sales approaching.
“Considering that there are no popular weekend sales events in October, automakers and dealers can feel encouraged by this month’s performance as they head into what they hope will be a busy holiday season,” said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst for Edmunds.com.
During September, Austin area dealers sold 12,255 new vehicles, compared with 12,280 during the same month a year ago. For the first nine months of 2016, Austin-area dealers have sold 96,726 new vehicles, compared with 98,397 during the same period in 2015.
However, at First Texas Honda, Clauss said the dealership has posted gains in both new and used auto sales. He said he remains bullish on the Austin market because it continues to post strong population gains.
“Honda as a brand is up a little bit, and nationally we are up more than they are,” he said. “We are probably up about 7 percent, so that’s pretty good for us especially when the industry is kind of flat and Honda is up a little bit. We are having a good year, so we are optimistic.”
In September, Austin’s labor and housing figures were a a mixed bag, but there are signs that the economy remains healthy. For example, Austin’s job market in September posted 3 percent annual job growth rate and the jobless rate was 3.5 percent, which is lower than the 3.3 percent rate from the same month a year ago.
Sales of existing home sales, which have shown some cooling, were up 1.3 percent compared to the same month a year ago. The area’s median sales price, however, rose 7.5 percent to $275,250 compared with the same month a year ago.