By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer
Ford Motor Co. continued its reign as the best-selling carmaker in Northeast Ohio as vehicle sales in the region climbed strongly in 2013 to their best levels in years.
Ford vehicles dominated the top 10 best-selling models in Summit County in 2013, while overall sales led all other manufacturers in greater northern Ohio last year, according to two Northeast Ohio dealers associations.
Annual sales — locally and nationally — rose to their highest levels since the lows of 2009 and the depths of the Great Recession, which bodes well for the economy, observers said.
Sales were the highest since 2005, when more than 237,000 new light vehicles were sold in the region. The final Northern Ohio results beat sales forecasts by 300 vehicles, according to the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers’ Association.
Dealers sold 40,960 new Ford vehicles last year in a 21-county region of northern Ohio, nearly 13 percent more than the 36,319 sold in 2012, according to the Cleveland association.
Chevrolet was the second-best-selling manufacturer in the region last year with 32,679 vehicles sold.
Honda was third with 19,997 sales, just ahead of fourth-place Toyota with 19,698 sales. Kia finished fifth with 12,959 sales.
Northern Ohio sales hit 229,534 last year, up 10.3 percent from 208,099 in 2012, the Cleveland automobile dealers association reported.
“[Car sales are] a very important piece of the economy,” said Ken Mayland, head of ClearView Economics in Pepper Pike. “We should continue to see sales grow [in 2014].”
New vehicle sales tend to be a leading economic indicator, meaning their rise or fall shows upcoming economic growth or decline, Mayland said.
Housing construction is another indicator, he said.
“2014 prospects are better because of housing starts and auto sales are in upward trends,” he said. “It’s a very good sign for the economy at large.”
Nationally, new vehicle sales still are below averages from 2000 through 2006, when between 16 million and 16.5 million new vehicles were sold each year, Mayland said.
“For 2013, we came up to 15.5 million. We’re working our way,” Mayland said. “We’re now in fourth gear and probably have one more gear to go. I think we’ll get there in 2014, 2015.”
“There’s pent-up demand. People put off purchasing vehicles. Now, they need to,” said Terry Metcalf, executive vice president of the Northeast Ohio Auto Dealers Association in Akron.
While the economy is improving, it still appears to be pretty soft, Metcalf said.
Sales this year are projected to increase over 2013, Metcalf said.
The National Automobile Dealers Association is projecting 16.4 million new vehicles will be sold or leased this year, a 5.1 percent increase over 2013 figures.
“It’s not going to be as big as 2013 over 2012,” Metcalf said. “But we think it’s going to be pretty good.”
This is an exciting time for Ohio’s automobile industry, including dealers, large and small suppliers and carmakers, said Eric Burkland, president of the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association in Columbus.
“We fell off the cliff in the Great Recession. That was just economic trauma,” he said. “Companies that survived it are going great guns right now. ... There were a lot of people writing off the auto industry as an economic engine here in the state. Fortunately, they were wrong.”
He called the ongoing increase in new vehicle sales half of a “double good story” in Ohio.
“Ohio-made cars are selling, whether it’s the Jeeps or the [Chevrolet] Cruze or the Honda products,” Burkland said.
December sales capped off 12 straight months of sales growth compared to 2012, the Cleveland automobile dealers group said. The strong end to 2013 sales shows growing consumer confidence as well as pent-up demand, said Louis Vitantonio, president of the Cleveland dealers association, in a statement.
The Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers’ Association organizes the annual Cleveland Auto Show, which is considered the kickoff to the spring selling season. This year’s show opens to the public March 1 at the I-X Center next to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
Top local vehicles
The Ford Escape small SUV was the best-selling new vehicle in Summit County in 2013, with 880 vehicles sold, an increase of nearly 20 percent from 2012.
Ford’s F-150 pickup was the second best-seller locally, with the Fusion midsize sedan tied with the Honda Civic for third place and the Ford Focus small car the county’s fifth best-seller. The only other domestic model to crack the top 10 in Summit County was the made-in-Lordstown Chevrolet Cruze, which came in sixth in 2013.
“We did sell an awful lot of Escapes,” said Joe Stefanini, vice president for Montrose Auto Group and current president of the Northeast Ohio auto dealers group.
“We had our best year ever. Ever. Ever. Ever,” Stefanini said. “Ford was our star.”
Ford historically has done well in Northeast Ohio, helped in part by a significant manufacturing presence in the area as well as a strong dealer network, Stefanini said.
“I’m hoping 2014 will be an excellent year,” he said.
Montrose Auto Group anticipates spending more than $2 million to expand and upgrade its dealerships in Montrose and Alliance starting late this year, he said. These will be the first major renovations for the facilities in about eight years.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com.