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February 01, 2015
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Vroom-vroom — Car Dealers Racing to a New Finish Line

by James Hartman

Photo by Shamus Pons

With the announcement that the federal government will require a 90-percent improvement in fuel efficiency by 2050, one could almost hear the collective sigh of economists thinking, "Well, as if they don't have it bad enough..." Thing is, you could place every economist in the world end-to-end and they won’t reach a conclusion. And car dealers hereabouts say things are looking pretty good.

"Business last month was great," said Mark Campbell, general sales manager at Bill Hood Ford in Hammond. "We're up about 25 percent year-over-year." "Business is very good," said Adam Bowen, general manager of Rainbow Suzuki Imports in Covington. "Business is picking up" said Kenny Bothner, general sales manager of Eddie Tourelle's Northpark Nissan and Hyundai, also near Covington. "We have taken the turn for the better. From last year at this time to now is just incredible. We've seen the turn in the last three months." Not bad for an industry that a year ago was on the serious skids.

Shifting gears hasn't been easy in an automobile market – or an overall economy – that has proven about as reliable as a Ouija board. "We stayed pretty steady (during the 2008 gas crunch) but we had to adjust to the market," said Bowen. "When gas was $4.50 a gallon, we didn’t carry SUVs." Rainbow also has a seriously diverse inventory, which broadens the scope of its potential customers.

"I sell cars from $12,995 to $100,000," Bowen said, mentioning a list of pre-owned brands from Jaguar to Mercedes – and, of course, new Suzukis. And Rainbow also has a huge Internet presence. "We do a lot of Internet business, so it's all over the country," he said. "We've sold cars all over the world. You'd have a hard time shipping Chevys, but the products we sell get a lot more business that way." That’s certainly one way to keep it balanced and the business flowing.

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