Williams drives the market in third quarter

TRAVERSE CITY – Welcome to Kia Country. The latest auto sales data for the Grand Traverse area shows that car buyers are bucking national trends and prefer the affordable imports over other models that sell better throughout the nation. For the third quarter (July-September), the Kia Spectra and Kia Sportage were Traverse City's best selling car and SUV, respectively. Neither vehicle ranks in the top 10 nationally.

The data is a summary of car and truck sales by dealers in the Traverse City 49684 and 49686 zip codes. It's compiled monthly by an independent research organization. The Business News will report the sales data each quarter.

Williams Kia Sales Manager Paul Chauvette says there's no magic to their strong sales numbers.

"It's just taking care of every customer. We're one of the only Kia dealers that's received the President's Award, based on sales and customer satisfaction index, so that shows we just take great care of everyone who comes in the door."

Chauvette also mentioned that prospective buyers always seek a low monthly payment and find the Spectra's $14,000 price tag and 10-year/100,000-mile warranty "a good value and payment combination." Williams Kia opened in March 2004 and has been advertising heavily on local radio stations.

Brett Smith, assistant director at the Center for Automotive Research, says Kia's strength locally is based on two factors.

"In a relatively small market like Traverse City, a dealer with advertising resources can truly drive a market. This sounds like a fabulous dealer push by your local dealer. And the Kia vehicles are being purchased by younger buyers who aspire to high quality but not high price. We don't laugh at their quality anymore; Kias and Hyundais are beating Detroit and approaching traditional Japanese companies in terms of quality," he said.

The numbers also chronicle local auto dealers' fortunes. The two sales leaders, Williams Chevrolet and Williams Kia, are both owned by Traverse City's William Chichester. The dealer posting the strongest growth from the third quarter of 2005 compared to the third quarter of 2006 was Saturn of Traverse City (owned by Bill Marsh), which grew sales 38 percent. One of Marsh's other dealerships, Bill Marsh Motors, posted the steepest decline in sales at 23 percent. Overall, Traverse City sold virtually the same number of new cars and trucks July-September compared to the same period last year.

Mirroring national sales numbers, imports continue to do well in the Grand Traverse area, as well. The four best-selling cars during this period were all imports, the top three all Kia models.

The numbers also show that northern Michigan is Chevy truck country. The Chevrolet Silverado outsold the Ford F-Series and Dodge Ram significantly during the third quarters of 2005 and 2006. Ford has consistently outsold Chevrolet in nationwide sales.

Smith cited the fact that Chevy is about to launch a redesigned truck and is now selling off its older models at a discount as one factor. BN