Flat sales
El Nino plays havoc with automobile sales and service

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 01/98) - Fewer people have kicked the tires or glanced through a frosty window of a brand new vehicle in past months.

El Nino's mild winter and a downturn in the local economy are to blame say some local car dealerships.

Doug Taylor, sales representative with White Bear Chrysler said November and December sales were slow.

"I attribute part of that to the mild winter," said Taylor. "Older cars aren't breaking down and then when it's mild people will walk. That had a lot to do with it."

Western dealerships experienced the same decline in sales. They didn't have winter so sales of 4 x 4 sport utes, 4 x 4 trucks were down, he added.

January was reasonable for White Bear he said and in February, things began to pick up.

Taylor hopes this trend will continue throughout the spring and summer, their busy season.

Barry Walsh, co-owner of Autotech and Toyota distributor said last year sales were not bad.

"Being the smallest one (dealer) in town we finished with 52 new and 25 used," said Walsh.

But, January and February were slow months for sales because of El Nino.

"It is a little tense right about now. This spring now reminds me of the spring of 1993. Tentatively it should bounce back May or June," said Walsh.

That's generally what the automotive market in western Canada is like now, he added. Everyone has lots of inventory because sales didn't continue as they did right up to Dec. 1997.

Autotech's service department is also seeing fewer automobiles seeking repairs, said Walsh.

"If we don't have a cold winter us dealers in the service area suffer. We do need the cold to survive, 100 per cent. This is the warmest winter I've seen in nine years and it has a direct relation to the service department."

Walsh said Yellowknife's "iffy" economy is also playing a part in decreased automobile sales.

"If one could survive in Yellowknife to the year 2000 things will get better. After the separation," he said, adding that decreased production at both of Yellowknife's mines has also kept a good portion of the public from spending.

For Kingland Ford, the market has been soft, but this only means the sales person has to work a little bit harder, said Murray MacDonald, sales manager for Kingland.

"You got to go out there and make sure that you're getting a lion's share of the units. But, that all comes down to product knowledge and having a sales staff that knows what they're selling and knows the public in the community," he said.

For Yellowknife Motors, GM and Chevrolet products the end of 1997 was good for business and so was January, better than it was the previous year. In February though, things dropped off a bit but in March it picked up again.

"The mild winter as far as car sales certainly did affect it, definitely. When it's 40 below, vehicles don't run. When it's 15 below, anything will run. It has an affect on the sales as well as the service," said Don Clunie, sales representative.

"It was great for the public, but really not good for business."

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