Area auto sales sluggish compared to the national numbers

If only Tampa Bay's auto sales could catch up with the national momentum. U.S. sales of new vehicles rose 6 percent in January, but the seven-county Tampa Bay area's sales in January (the latest month available for regional data) fell almost 13 percent compared to January 2009.

By county, Pasco held its own, declining only 0.8 percent in new vehicle sales. Hills­borough sales dropped 7.2 percent, and Pinellas fell 13.8 percent. Then there is Hernando, a county walloped by one of the highest unemployment rates in Florida. The number of new vehicle sales in that county dropped to 96 from 181 in January '09 — a 47 percent decrease.

January sales at major Toyota dealerships were strong. But that was before the burst of negative publicity and big recalls. Let's see if all new incentives at Toyota can help keep sales from suffering too much in the next few months.

Finally, who sold more new vehicles than any other dealer in the entire metro area in January? Try Hyundai of New Port Richey. Somebody up there knows sales and service.

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A fledgling young business professionals group is carving out a niche as next-generation supporters of the push for better mass transit in the Tampa Bay area. The group calls itself TRANSITion Tampa Bay.

Its co-founders include Brett Milke, 24, and Brian Seel, 25, (son of Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel) — two local University of Florida pals who now are project engineers for construction companies. Milke, who works for the Murray Co. in Clearwater, says the new grass roots effort wants to link with other young professional groups like Emerge Tampa to build more buzz for mass transit — specifically for the November ballot referendum in Hillsborough that seeks a 1-cent sales tax increase to help fund light rail and a better bus service in the county. Especially now that the feds have kick-started a high-speed Tampa-Orlando rail project.

TRANSITion Tampa Bay has an event with a speaker from HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority) Thursday evening from 6 to 8 p.m., in South Tampa at the Lime, 915 S Howard Ave. It is still pulling a Web site together, but you can find info about the group on Facebook. One economic development group lending a hand, meeting space and some introductions to the new organization is the pro-mass-transit Tampa Bay Partnership.

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Former Tampa Bay Rays managing partner Vince Naimoli offered this advice last year to graduates seeking work in a recession when he was a commencement speaker at his alma mater, the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Start somewhere, he said. "You have to get in the door. Then you have to work hard. The cream always rises to the surface." Barring that, he said, join the military.

Naimoli hits the campus again, this time at the University of Tampa on March 16 when he will sign copies of his glowing autobiography: Business, Baseball & Beyond. The reviews (aside from this newspaper's) are few and far between. And you won't find the book on Amazon. It was published by StarGroup International, which specializes in books for corporations (to tell their own story) and individuals "to preserve a legacy, educate or tell a story."

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Area auto sales sluggish compared to the national numbers 03/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 7:37pm]

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