Wisconsin’s new vehicle registrations are down from 2015, even as national auto sales continue on a record pace, but Jim Tolkan, Automobile Dealers Association of Mega Milwaukee president, says sales in the region are still strong.
Nationally, sales are up 1.5 percent through the end of June, according to data from Autodata Corp. The gains are being driven by sales in light trucks, which are up 9.2 percent over last year. Passenger vehicles are down 7.5 percent.
As a state, Wisconsin is matching that trend, with total registrations down 15.4 percent, but trucks performing better, down just 10.6 percent. Car registrations are off 25.1 percent, according to data from the Department of Transportation.
Tolkan said the Wisconsin market may have peaked a little earlier than the nation as a whole, but it is still very healthy.
"We reached a plateau," he said, adding that it might take a year or two to see where the market goes. A recent forecast from the Chicago Federal Reserve suggested auto sales would be essentially flat compared to last year's record and might decline slightly in 2017.
The difference in sales of trucks and passenger cars is “astounding,” Tolkan said. While lower gas prices have helped fuel the popularity of trucks and SUVs, he said the stronger performance of trucks goes further.
“I don’t think it’s solely gas prices,” he said, noting that financing is still readily accessible and many manufacturers are offering “extremely aggressive” deals on trucks. In particular, he said this comes into play on light duty trucks like crossover SUVs. The combination of financing and available deals closes the pricing gap against passenger cars.
Tolkan also said the crossover SUVs are popular with two of the largest buying segments, baby boomers and millennials. He said the former may have previously had a larger full-size SUV and is now looking to downsize while the younger group is beginning to start families.
“Millennials are starting to buy cars,” he said.
Southeastern Wisconsin largely matched the state registration figures through the end of June. Milwaukee County was off 17.7 percent and Racine was down 15.8 percent. The other six counties in the region performed better than the state, with Sheboygan leading the way at down 10.2 percent.
Southeastern Wisconsin generally did well on truck sales, with Kenosha County off just 0.8 percent and all but Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties off less than 10 percent.
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