Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Auto Shoppers Trek to Dealerships

Auto Shoppers Trek to Dealerships

HOLYOKE - Frank J. Liebel drives a lot and needs a really nice car, so he went to a local Hyundai dealership yesterday in hopes of scoring a deal.

Kathleen M. Cashin also was out shopping at an auto dealership yesterday, looking for a new Lexus to replace her old Lexus.

Liebel and Cashin were helping local auto dealers kick off the spring selling season that begins with the traditional Presidents Day sales.

Automobiles weren't the only merchandise on sale. Other retailers from upscale department stores to appliance stores ran special sales to take advantage of the long weekend.

Or, as Milton P. Rosenberg, chief executive officer of Bernie's TV & Appliance, said yesterday, "everybody's off today. So when the customers aren't working, you know what they're doing - they're shopping."

While it may seem counter-intuitive to go to a Hyundai dealership for a really nice car, Gary D. Rome, president of Gary Rome Hyundai in Holyoke, said that quality, safety and reliability ratings for the South Korean automobiles now rival or exceed ratings for the makes that are traditionally at the top of those lists.

Liebel also pointed to Hyundai's extensive warranties, as well as lower prices and good service at the Main Street dealership.

Rome said Hyundai offered special pricing for the holiday. "It's the beginning of our selling season," and the sales are so appealing, people wait for President's Day to buy a car.

Among the Hyundai offers were $2,000 off the Sonata and 1.9 percent financing, he said.

While Gary Rome Hyundai had the usual Presidents Day balloon bunches and a bustle of customers, the atmosphere was a bit more quiet and refined at Balise Lexus, down the road in West Springfield.

Despite the calm, Murray B. Fanning, general manager, said that "we did see a definite rise in traffic this weekend."

He estimated late yesterday afternoon that the dealership had sold about 15 Lexuses since Friday.

The long weekend helps the Lexus dealership, Fanning said. Would-be Lexus owners come in early in the weekend, drive a car, go home and do their research and think about it, then come back Sunday or Monday to buy.

Cashin, of the Housatonic section of Great Barrington, didn't need to think about it. She drove her 2003 Lexus GS300 40 miles down the Massachusetts Turnpike to Balise Lexus to scout out the GS350, with a base price of $47,300.

The older vehicle has "been a sensational car," Cashin said, "and I just thought of upgrading, looking at the new model."

She was deep in discussions with senior sales consultant Marc C. Thompson, who has sold Lexuses since the dealership opened 17 years ago.

Cashin said she expected she would get a better deal because it was Presidents' Day, but she also noted she came looking on the holiday because she had the time.

Fanning said that Lexus, unlike most other makes, doesn't really offer rebates or incentives. Instead, the company offers better leasing and financing options for the Presidents Day holiday.

Fanning said the Balise Honda dealership next door sold 50 cars since Friday, while the Toyota dealership on the other side sold 70.

Over the first two days of the weekend, the Hyundai dealership had sold more than 20 cars and Rome said he expects to sell "well over 50 for the weekend."

Liebel said he's bought cars from the Rome dealership "back when they were selling Nissans."Rome, in fact, predicted that by the time the deal was done, Liebel would have a silver car - again. Liebel said he was thinking of turning in his Hyundai XG350 sedan for its descendant, the new Azera sedan, which starts at $24,000.

Carroll V. Perez, the salesman helping Liebel, said President's Day brings big sales in part because "everybody's tired of winter and they come out and want to change their used cars for new."

Perez, who has sold Hyundais for four years, said about 25 percent of the shoppers on Presidents Day weekend turn into buyers during the actual three-day weekend, "but many come back" after cruising the showrooms.

Liebel, who gets a new car every three years or so, said he doesn't always buy it on Presidents Day, "but I figured it would be a good opportunity to look and see what the deals are."

Rosenberg, of Bernie's, said Presidents Day weekend is a big time for sales, whether it's automobiles or appliances, and, "I think it's pretty much always been so."

While February might otherwise be a lackluster month for retailers, sales of television sets for the Super Bowl early in the month, and now President's Day sales, help boost revenues, he said. "And the weather's certainly been on our side. We're very pleased with the results," Rosenberg said.

Taken from The Republican Tuesday, February 20, 2007

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