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County car sales jump 10% in 2013

New vehicle sales in San Diego County jumped more than 10 percent in 2013, well ahead of the national average of 7 percent, but behind California's other large metro areas, according to a report released Thursday by the New Car Dealers Association of California.

Statewide, vehicle sales shot up 12 percent last year to 1.7 million vehicles, its highest point since 2007, partly thanks to increases of 14 percent jump in sales in the San Francisco Bay Area and 12 percent in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

"California's franchised new car dealers continue to drive our state's economic recovery, with new registrations up 65 percent from 2009," said Randy Denham, the association's chairman and owner of the S.J. Denham auto center in Redding.

The association projects that in 2014 new vehicle sales will rise more than 5 percent to 1.8 million.

Even then, sales will be below the historic highs set from 2000 to 2006, when they regularly topped 2 million, before being laid low by rising gas prices and a declining economy. By 2009, sales had plummeted to 1 million — the lowest point in at least two decades — but have risen steadily ever since.

"With new technology available in cars at various price points, we assume that annual sales of 2 million new units are foreseeable in the next few years," said Kim McPhaul, director of communications and marketing at the association.

In San Diego County, sales rose from 126,570 in 2012 to 139,593 in 2013, prompting dealerships and repair operations to add 500 new workers.

Much of that growth came from light trucks, which climbed 13 percent last year to 53,693, with a growth rate about the same as the rest of Southern California. Car sales, on the other hand, rose only 8.5 percent to 85,630, well beneath the regional or state average.

Statewide, the top-selling models remained the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic, as drivers continued to seek energy-efficient vehicles. The market share for hybrid and electric cars rose from slightly over 6 percent in 2012 to close to 7 percent in 2013.

Despite the strong showing by Japanese brands, which have long dominated the California market, the biggest sales growth occurred among Detroit's Big Three — GM, Ford and Chrysler — which rose an average of 17 percent last year compared to 13 percent for Japanese brands and 8 percent for Europe.

On the other hand, sales of used vehicles slipped 6 percent last year, which the association blamed partly on lack of supply.

Drivers typically wait four to six years before trading in their old car for a new one, so the used market last year was partly tied to trade-ins from drivers who bought their cars between 2007 and 2009, when the market was plummeting to its lowest point in decades.

Despite the slowdown, 630,000 used cars were sold last year, accounting for 20 percent of the market.

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