Dealers hopeful in 2009

Published 12:23 am Wednesday, January 21, 2009

With the news of banking bailouts and issues with the Big 3 motor companies making headlines, local auto dealerships are reminding people that they depend on the community’s support.

Joey Langley of Massey Automotive said his dealership receives no money from its major brand — GM — for selling their products.

“The factory’s inability to manage itself has brought negative light on dealers,” Langley said. “The fact is GM doesn’t give us any money to run this business. It’s done with private funds and our own money invested. (The factory’s) inability to run a tight ship makes it look bad for some of us. And that’s not the case. We don’t run our business like that.”

Business is just what he and Randy Harrelson of Andalusia Ford are looking for, since banks have appeared to loosen some of their credit restrictions for financing.

“It’s a little better than it was several months ago; it’s loosened a bit,” Harrelson said. “A lot of the banks got their bailout money and people are beginning to get their income tax money in, so that’s really going to help.”

It will help, both agreed, after experiencing a sharp decline in sales at the end of 2008.

“I’d say in the fall, for us, sales dropped 30 percent,” Langley said. “December was good and January is off to a good start. I think we’ve seen the worst it’s going to get.”

To make sure of it, Langley said consumers should realize the retail market has changed.

“Banks aren’t going to overextend themselves (when financing automobiles),” he said. “As an industry, we had eight years of where people didn’t have to put money down to buy a car,” he said. “We have to get back to the way it was done 10 or 20 years ago and think of a car as an investment.

“When you buy a house, generally you have to put 20 percent down,” he said. “It used to be like that in the car industry and it needs to be that way again.”

Langley said banks have no clear-cut formula when determining if and for whom they will finance a new car purchase.

“There are so many different things that can factor into that decision,” he said. “Banks are funny and there are no blanket answers for everyone. It just depends on the individual situation, but I can tell you that down payment money helps.

“It proves to the bank you are willing to make an investment in this purchase,” he said.

Langley said the amount of cash investment a customer is willing to make, shortens the term of the loan and decreases one’s payments and reduces the amount financed — all things that banks look on favorably.

“Lenders are starting to loosen up their requirements and qualifications for obtaining credit, so people shouldn’t be scared to apply for credit,” he said. “It’s never going to return to being the crutch it has been in the past where we can get something without putting up an investment.”

An investment in the form of tax return dollars, maybe? Harrelson sure hopes so.

“It truly is a buyer’s market,” he said. “There’s no better time than now to buy, especially if you have cash in hand. I’ve seen a lot of people buy into the negative media about the auto industry, but people are always going to buy cars.

“And here in Andalusia, we’ve got several great places to do it,” he said.