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GM dealers hope sale will revive their business

CLEARWATER

The salesmen sit and longingly wait in the humid June air, almost sprinting when the odd customer rolls onto the Autoway Chevrolet car lot off U.S. 19.

Lately, selling Chevys has been tough.

But if General Motors' latest promotion lives up to expectations, the sales doldrums of a slow summer could get a gust of wind.

Strapped around a cargo van outside the dealer's showroom, a banner flutters in the breeze, waving to the hundreds of cars passing every minute.

In bold letters, it reads: 72 hour sale. A ticking stopwatch replaces the "o" in "hour."

The sweating salesmen — and GM — are really hoping this one will do the trick.

Even though the 72-hour sale is actually six days long, ending Monday, for General Motors, the terms of the deal and its ultimate goal are urgent: Offer no-interest financing for six years on slow-selling models and hope buyers will start to move the idle wheels taking up space on dealers' lots.

And to add a little competitive symbolism, if the maker of Chevy, Cadillac, Saturn and other brands doesn't pick up its pace, rival Toyota could outsell GM this month in the United States.

For Robert Bolowski, who is considering trading his 2006 Impala for something more fuel efficient, it was cheap credit and lower payments that brought him to the dealership Friday.

"I'd like a little less gas cost, and a little better on the payments," Bolowski said. "But I can't find one (a car) I like."

The retiree left the lot in the same car he came in.

Chris Bruder, general manager of Autoway Chevrolet, said while there was hardly a rush Wednesday, the first day of the sale, there have been signs that by Monday, business will start rolling.

"Today we've had the most appointments all week," Bruder said. "There are a lot of zeroes advertised out there, but zero for 72 months? That's special."

By 3 p.m. Friday, two new cars had been sold. A full-size truck, and a relatively efficient Cobalt.

But two years ago, the last time Chevy ran a similar sales event, the dealership moved 36 vehicles in a single day. But back then, gas cost half as much as it does now.

With new car sales in May down 11 percent nationally, and down 25 percent from a year ago in the Tampa Bay area, which has seen sales plummet, a repeat performance is unlikely.

War stories and industry trends aside, Jeff Myrick, a sales manager at the dealership, said: "We're counting on a huge weekend."

Sales slump locally, nationwide

Tampa Bay-area new vehicle sales were down 25 percent in May, compared with last year, and down 18 percent year to date. Previously, the sharpest decline was 24 percent in March. Also:

• The May decline was steepest in Citrus (33 percent), Hillsborough (29 percent) and Pinellas (28 percent).

• Nationally, new vehicle sales declined by 11 percent

in May compared with last year, less than half the rate

of Tampa Bay's decline.

• Used vehicle sales were down 38 percent in April compared with last year and down 28 percent year

to date.

Sources: AutoCount, Automotive News

GM dealers hope sale will revive their business 06/27/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2008 1:31pm]

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