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Fred Marks his sister SheilMarks Bondoc both Lake Forest owners Classic Toyotlocated 515 N. Green Bay Road Waukegan.  |

Fred Marks and his sister Sheila Marks Bondoc, both of Lake Forest, and owners of Classic Toyota located at 515 N. Green Bay Road in Waukegan. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 5, 2013 6:30AM

Terry D’Arcy, owner of three Joliet dealerships, said he could feel the momentum shifting in the past couple of years. That’s why he took a chance and bought the old Saturn dealership on West Jefferson Street when it closed.

He remodeled the building and converted it into a stand-alone dealership for his Volkswagen line, which had been combined with his Hyundai dealership. The new site opened in March.

The gamble paid off. D’Arcy said his Volkswagen sales doubled this year compared to last year.

Total sales at his Volkswagen, Hyundai and GMC-Buick dealerships increased by 1,000 units from 4,000 during the worst of the recession to 5,000 in 2012.

“We had a very good 2012,” D’Arcy said. “It was probably the best year since 2008.”

Brad Wise, general manager of Bill Jacobs Joliet, also has seen a spike in sales in 2012. The company’s Chevrolet, Cadillac, Mazda, Subaru, Kia and Mitsubishi dealerships sold about 4,000 vehicles in 2012, which is closer to pre-recession levels. The Chevy Silverado is the top seller at Bill Jacobs Joliet. Wise said the company was close to breaking a state sales record for the pickup in December.

In addition to pent-up demand, Wise said he believes banks are now more willing to work with car loan customers than they have been in the past few years.

“The banks want to help us put deals together,” he said. “They need the business, too.”

While things are looking up, Wise said there is still a lot of room for growth. If the unemployment rate continues to drop and home values rise, that will help boost car sales even more in 2013, he said. And Wise said car salespeople everywhere would like to see the average age of vehicles on the road start to drop from the current all-time high of 11 years.

“If that’s what you do for a living, you don’t want to see people hold onto their cars,” he said.

Cindy Wojdyla Cain

“People are starting to slowly come out and buy,” said Sheila Marks Bondoc, owner and vice president of the Classic Dealer Group on Green Bay Road in Waukegan.

“They’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, and it’s not a quick process like it once was,” Marks Bondoc said about the buyer’s mentality. “Overall, 2012 was a good year for us, and we anticipate 2013 being even better — a slow and steady growth. Nothing dramatic, but slow and steady.”

Dan Moran

Northwest Indiana car dealers are still tallying the numbers from year-end sales, but early numbers show 2012 was a good year and car sales sales look to continue to increase in 2013.

Through November 2012, new vehicle registrations were up 7.7 percent and used vehicle registrations dropped 4.2 percent compared to the same period in 2011, according to the Chicago Automobile Trade Association. New cars led the trend with 10.8 percent. About 40 percent of December’s new-vehicle sales occur in last eight days of the month.

Cary Bosak, co-owner of the Bosak Auto Group, said Chrysler has been a strong performer — up 27 percent from last year — and Jeep “took off like a rocket,” Bosak said.

Bosak said that he expects sales to continue increasing, but uncertainty about tax rates in Washington, D.C. could dissuade some customers from buying.

The top-selling brand was Scion, closely followed by Chevrolet was second with 31,201, Ford and Honda. A mix of American and European brands sold well in 2012; Chrysler, Land Rover, Jeep, Ram, Volkswagen and MINI new retail registrations increased by more than 21 percent.

Dan Brubaker, general manager of Team Chevrolet in Valparaiso, said sales have been consistently good over the past four or five months. Brubaker said popular models included the Cruze, Malibu and Equinox.

Brubaker said the dealership saw an uptick in sales once U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal settled their contracts with the United Steelworkers in early September.

“Employees can’t go ahead and purchase until a contract is settled,” Brubaker said. “But once they had their sign-on bonuses from the contract they came in to buy cars.”

Christin Nance Lazerus

Chrysler had an exceptionally strong year.

“Chrysler, fortunately, with our new ownership has had over 30 months of month-over-month increases, mostly because of our new lines, a new (Jeep) Grand Cherokee, the new (Dodge) Dart,” said Dan Schwebke, general manager of Ron Westphal Chevrolet in Oswego.

The Dart, which gets 40 miles per gallon, has been particularly popular for the economically conscious consumer, he said.

Also, its made in Illinois.

“It’s built right here, in the Belvedere assembly plant, so there’s a lot of excitement for that,” said Dan Feeny, owner of Feeny Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Elgin.

Customers also have responded to spruced up dealerships. Ron Westphal finished floor-to-ceiling renovations this year, part of a nationwide push to update the Chevy brand, Schwebke said.

“It brought a lot of people in, and we’ve has an extremely favorable response,” said Schwebke. “It’s very modern, with customer amenities all over. People really seem to like it.”

So much so, in fact, that sales volumes are up 25 percent for new vehicles, and 30 percent for used ones.

Schwebke said he’s very optimistic, not just because sales are up, but because sales of a particular vehicle — trucks — are up.

“We’ve seen a substantial uptick in pickup trucks,” he said, “Which is a good sign, people in the building trades, they need a truck for work.”

All of which makes him hopeful for 2013.

“I do see the trend continuing,” Schwebke said. “I don’t know what our friends in Washington are doing — that may have effect on everyone’s mood — but I do expect another double-digit year.”

Jenette Sturges

An improving economy — as well as an improved lineup of vehicles in his showrooms — helped drive higher sales for Mike Bettenhausen’s dealerships in 2012.

“Since the recession ended we’ve seen gradual improvement” each year in sales, he said.

Bettenhausen is co-owner of Bettenhausen Automotive, which operates three dealerships in Tinley Park and Orland Park selling Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat and Jeep vehicles.

Still, he said, the industry has a ways to go to get back to sales levels that it enjoyed prior to the recession. Some buyers want to see more evidence of a stronger rebound in the economy before committing to a big-ticket item such as a new vehicle, Bettenhausen said.

“We’ve got a lot of positives going for us when you consider our industry was off 40 percent in the depth of the recession in 2009, and has seen three consecutive years of 10 percent-plus year-over-year improvements,” he said.

While Chrysler itself came close to succumbing once the recession hit, Bettenhausen said the company has rebounded and is drawing more customers to its vehicles, thanks to what he called “outstanding” improvements to their quality, fuel economy and safety.

The industry has a ways to go to get back to sales levels that it enjoyed prior to the recession. Some buyers want to see more evidence of a stronger rebound in the economy before committing to a big-ticket item such as a new vehicle, Bettenhausen said.

“We’ve got a lot of positives going for us when you consider our industry was off 40 percent in the depth of the recession in 2009, and has seen three consecutive years of 10 percent-plus year-over-year improvements,” he said.

Mike Nolan

“We had a lot of aggressive leasing programs which allowed people to get a lot more car for their money,” Sam Guzzino, general sales manager at Naperville Jeep/Dodge said. “People found it cheaper to lease than to sink $3,000 or $4,000 into doing repairs. Even though the first few months of the new year are typically slow, I see sales continuing on the upswing.”

Guzzino said at the dealership there year rose 10 percent last year, thanks to the popularity of minivans, Dodge Ram trucks, and the Jeep line up.

At Fair Oaks Ford and Lincoln in Naperville, sales manager Sam Santaro said total sales this year “were about even with those of 2011” when the dealership experienced more than a 20 percent increase.

“Anytime you can match sales from the increase a year before and keep your head above water, you have to feel good about it, given the economy,” Santaro said. “We still are seeing more new car sales than used, although we’d had a lot of success in the used car certified programs.”

Joel Weinberger, owner of three area dealerships including Continental Mazda, Audi, and Acura in Naperville, said sale increases ranged from 5 to 15 percent among the three name plates and that increased production from Japan as well as an increase in consumer confidence helped boost sales.

“We did more than half of our December business in the last three days of the year,” Weinberger said. “Overall, the Illinois market is a little softer than the national sales figures I’ve seen, but we did see an increase across the board.”

Naperville’s best performer might be Chevy of Naperville, who saw sales climb 40% in 2011, followed by a 20% increase this year. General Manager Wayne Michor also credits attractive leasing deals for the dealership’s continuing success, as well as a strong product line and more favorable lending practices from banks.

“We are seeing banks getting back to more normal lending practices which helped last year, as well as the fact that the manufacturer offered leasing deals throughout the entire year, not just during a few months,” Michor said. “There was something like 13 ½ million in new car sales last year and we certainly got our share of that, thanks to having the right products.”

Michor expects strong sales to continue as the economy recovers and people reinvest after delaying many normal expenses.

“People have had to put off fixing their appliances or doing remodeling and their cars have also been getting older,” he said. “It’s time for a lot of people to put ‘Bessie” to sleep and if fuel prices remain stable, people will want to upgrade and get into more fuel efficient cars.”

David Sharos

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