Saunders

Dreams of cars are cheap

Staff WriterFebruary 10, 2009 

First off, it helps to know that you're more likely to hear a professional rassler express doubt about winning his coming steel-cage death match than you are to hear a car salesman express doubt about selling a car.

That's why you had to be skeptical when the salesmen at the just-concluded N.C. International Auto Show at the Raleigh Convention Center gushed about their prospects of selling the cars displayed there.

Kapowee!!! indeed.

Glenn Moss, a salesman with Chris Leith Kia, said he discerned "no evidence of a slumping economy," at least not in the attitudes of the thousands of people who attended the four-day event.

Moss, a car salesman for seven years, said he'd made two appointments Sunday to show potential customers the new Kia Soul, now available only in Korea.

"I've taken 10 numbers from people who want me to call them when it comes in. People have a lot of interest in that," Moss said, motioning toward the car.

"We know there's a bad economy, but people have to replace their cars eventually. You can only fix them so much."

Real estate broker Asa Fleming was almost at that point, but not quite. Fleming, attending the auto show with his wife and two young children, said he mainly viewed the trip as a nice family outing and something to stoke his automotive imagination.

"I'm looking to see which one I can dream about tonight," he laughed, standing near an $85,000 sport utility vehicle that offered a free tank of gas if you bought it.

Fleming, as Moss said, acknowledged that he's going to have to replace his current car, but he's trying to delay it for as long as possible.

"It has a leak in the rear main seal, which will cost about $1,200 to fix," he said. Quickly doing the math in his head, he concluded, "Let's see, that would be about three payments on a new car."

The family bought a new SUV a few months ago, he said. "My wife loves it" for conveying the kids to and fro. His tone conveyed, though, that the family-style Highlander sport ute doesn't score a lot of "cool" points for a young man.

The car Eb and Dawn Holden were admiring was loaded with cool points. Unfortunately for most of its admirers, it was also loaded with zeroes at the end of its price. Holden said, "My wife and I are just looking now, but we're going to have to buy one in the next couple of years."

The one they were checking out at the auto show cost about $80,000, but the one they are most likely to buy costs less than half that. "She's really stuck on that Volkswagen Passat CC," he said, noting that it looks like the $80,000 car and "has a lot of the same qualities."

I asked Robert London, a salesman with Leith Audi, to sum up the auto show on its final day. "Overall, pretty darned good," he said. "People are mostly just coming to look, but everybody is going to be a customer at some point."

True, but it's unlikely that everybody is going to be a customer for the $127,000 Audi R-8 two-seater with 420 hp that was one of the major attractions at the auto show.

At least we can dream and stimulate our imaginations until the economy gets stimulated, right?

barry.saunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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