New automobiles continued to be a high priority for Clark County consumers in the three months ending in September, a big-ticket shopping spree that pushed retail sales to the strongest third-quarter showing since 2007.
Clark County's taxable retail sales increased 6.8 percent to nearly $1.2 billion during the three-month period in 2012, compared to the same period in 2011, the Washington State Department of Revenue reported Tuesday. The total sales include non-retail sectors such as construction and services.
Store-only retail trade rose 8.1 percent to $540.4 million in Clark County sales, helped along by major contributors such as motor vehicle and auto parts sales. The category rose 21.8 percent to $105.1 million.
Local auto dealers say they aren't surprised by the increase as they're seeing car and truck buyers finally getting around to replacing their well-used vehicles. Before the recession, car buyers typically traded in every 48 to 60 months, said Randy Dickerson, owner of Westlie Ford with operations in Camas and Washougal.
The typical buyer has recently held out between one and two years longer than that before trading in, he said.
"The overall fleet of people's cars has gotten older than at any time in history in the United States," Dickerson said.
He added that many dealers also have seen a sales increase in services, such as auto repair.
"They're paying more money on maintenance to make their cars last longer," Dickerson said.
In addition to trading up for newer models, Dickerson sees more customers trading in gas guzzlers for his company's most fuel-efficient car and truck models.
"The new F-150 with its Eco-Boost engine," tops the list of trucks, he said. The most popular car models include the Ford Focus and the Escape.
Vehicle sales also improved statewide, as consumers traded in older models for efficient and better-running automobiles, said Vicki Giles Fabre, executive vice president of the Washington State Auto Dealers Association in Tukwila.
Auto sales statewide rose 15.7 percent to $3 billion in the third quarter, as Washington's 39 counties began to shake off the various effects of recession.
"There was certainly a lot of pent-up demand from people not buying," Giles Fabre said.
According to data tracked by her organization, statewide dealers are on track to sell nearly 181,000 cars and trucks in 2012, up from previous years, but still down markedly from statewide sales of 205,000 in 2006.
"We're finally seeing dealers clawing their way back to where they were," Giles Fabre said.
Clark County's other retail sales sectors also battled against the lingering effects of recession, according to the state report.
Among them, general merchandise store sales were up 5.6 percent to $142.2 million, construction rose 2.8 percent to $185.6 million, and accommodations and food services increased 5.8 percent to $133.9 million.
Statewide, third-quarter retail sales increased by 5.4 percent to $28.8 billion.
Cami Joner is a Columbian business reporter. 360-735-4532, http://twitter.com/camijoner, http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/strictly-business, or email@example.com.