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Boro dealers face drop in auto sales amid economic woes

Queens auto dealers said this week they have seen a steady decline in sales during the past couple of months amid a national economic downturn with business dropping by 30 percent to 50 percent from year−earlier levels.

An industry observer familiar with dealerships along Northern Boulevard said sales were down 30 percent during the past three months, but a spot check of the showrooms along the northern Queens section of the strip found no one willing to discuss sales.

Bruce Bendell, owner of Long Island City’s 51−year−old Major World Auto, which sells new and used cars, said a number of borough auto dealerships could go out of business.

“We’ll see what happens in Washington in terms of getting funding,” he said. “Manufacturers in the auto industry are suffering. It’s affecting sales.”

Bendell said his company has not been hit too hard, but that he has seen a decline in sales.

“We’re a larger dealership, so we have a lot more access to banks,” he said. “Our sales have actually been up in November compared to October. Sales are up on pre−owned and used vehicles.”

He said the sale of energy−efficient vehicles peaked a few months ago and now customers find they cannot afford them.

“When gas was at $4 per gallon, everyone wanted hybrids,” he said. “But American consumers have a love for cars with big engines and a lot of space and a hybrid costs more. The government has to support the industry with HOV lanes, tax credits or come up with a savings for customers to promote hybrids.”

Southeastern Queens auto dealers said they have seen large drops in auto sales this fall.

“Business is down as much as 50 percent over the last couple of months,” said Jean R. Maurilus, finance manager for Nemet Truck & Auto Center on Hillside Avenue and 153rd Street in Jamaica. “The problem is that the banks are not loaning money. A customer with great credit may not get the financing or loans for their car.”

He said the government should create incentives for consumers to buy American vehicles.

“The real key is finding a way to stimulate customers to buy cars,” he said. “They should give tax credits to anyone who purchases an American car.”

The nation’s top automakers — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler — reported a sharp slump in November sales, continuing a trend that brought October sales for the industry to a 25−year low. But foreign automakers also have been hurt by weakening consumer confidence, with Toyota, Honda and BMW reporting steep dropoffs.

Dealerships in the borough said they have also seen declines in auto sales as Detroit automakers attempt to secure billions in loans through a federal bailout and a recent National Bureau of Economic Research study concluded that the nation has been in a recession for nearly a year.

Ivan Pereira and Stephen Stirling contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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