The long weekend's George Washington's birthday automobile specials helped revive flagging sales in an industry troubled by imports, gasoline prices and inflation, dealers said.
Area auto dealers, still wincing at the memory of last February's snow which buried one of the season's biggest sales, decked out their dealerships with holiday decorations and promotions, and the customers seemed to respond.
"Saturday was the best day we've had since last summer," said Steve Templeton, vice president of Templeton Oldsmobile. "It perked everybody's spirits up," he said. Yesterday would-be buyers wandered through the showroom in a steady stream, shopping there and in a warehouse set aside for a special "warehouse sale."
At Dick Herriman's Ford, a country music radio station disc jockey handed out plastic roses and invited people to come on down, which 200 to 300 did over the weekend, according to Herriman. "Today's been good shopping," said Herriman, who said it looked as if the dealership's weekend volume might equal holiday volume in 1978.
Herriman wrapped together a Valentine's Day promotion and the George Washington Birthday promotion and called it a "Sweetheart Sale."
"Because of what happened last year, we're holding our sale over a 10-day period instead of putting everything i one weekend that could be wiped out," said Herriman.
At JKJ Pontiac, business was lighter yesterday than on Saturday. "There've been times when it's been jammed and other times when we're just looking at each other," said Joe Koons, president. "We had an excellent Saturday, but today hasn't been as strong as I wanted," he said.
"People are just tight on money," said Koons. "The inflation rate has just eaten up a lot of people's cash flow."
Competition from imports also has hurt sales, said Koons and other dealers who sell domestically produced automobiles.
"The imports have nothing over us, but the styling of our cars hasn't changed in several years," said Koons. "It's hard to convince people that a car that's basically identical to the one they had in 1977 has improved gas mileage."
"Imports are being poured into the country now," said Herriman. "It seems to be right now that the socially acceptable car to have is an import."
Templeton said that although American-made cars compare favorably to imports, "The public isn't educated to that." But he added that he sees signs of a turnaround in the auto business.
"There seems to be a lot of pent-up demand," he said. "People have been holding off. We can see that by looking at the type of trade-in we're getting." Both the fear of paying more later because of inflation and the cost of keeping an older car in good repair are driving people back to the auto dealerships, he said.
With the problems facing the industry, "we know we've got to work that much harder. It isn't going to be a banner year," said Koons.
But, by and large, it appeared to be a good day in a hard year yesterday.
"Today has been excellent," said Bill Flank, who works at Dick Herriman Ford. "If it kept up like today, there would be no recession."