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Local auto sales jump 27%

Sales of new autos and light trucks in San Diego County jumped 27 percent last year -- twice the nationwide pace, reflecting easing credit conditions and pent-up demand from drivers who had been staving off purchases during the recession.

Last year, San Diego dealerships sold 123,680 consumer vehicles, compared to 97,368 in 2011, according to a report released Friday by the California New Car Dealers Association.

Statewide, sales rose 25.3 percent last year, compared to a national rise of 13.4 percent.

"With California's economy on the rebound, consumers feel confident again about buying a new car and there has never been a wider selection of models to choose from," said Darryl Holter, the chairman of the association who operates the Downtown L.A. Auto Group of eight dealerships.

Brian Maas, the association's director of governmental relations, said there may be several reasons why the California rebound is double the national average. He noted that the recession had a harsher impact on California than much of the rest of the country and that the state's relatively mild climate allowed drivers to keep their cars longer than they might have elsewhere.

"Now with the jobless rate going down and housing values going up, we're experiencing a lot of pent-up demand," Maas said.

Around 1.6 million new vehicles were sold throughout California last year. That is the highest total since 2007, the year the recession began, although still below the 2 million sales when the industry hit its peak in 2005. The association predicts an 8 percent increase in 2013, leading to total sales of 1.75 million vehicles.

As gasoline prices surged to record highs last year, drivers gravitated toward smaller cars. The most popular models statewide were the subcompact hybrid Toyota Prius, with 60,588 sales, and Honda Civic, 57,124, followed by the mid-size Toyota Camry, 50,250, and Honda Accord, 49,420.

More than 98,000 hybrids were sold throughout the state, expanding their market share from 5.4 percent in 2011 to 7.4 percent in 2012.

The association does not provide detailed figures on San Diego County, but its figures show that auto sales rose by 32 percent last year to 76,459, while sales of light trucks rose 20 percent to 47,221.

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