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US autos top 2012’s best-seller lists

There's a new king car atop the Mountain State.

The Chevrolet Cruze unseated the Toyota Camry as best-selling car in the state last year, according to the latest data from the West Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers Association.

Actually, vehicles made by American automakers topped the lists of best-selling cars, trucks and sport-utility vehicles in West Virginia in 2012, as statewide sales surged 14 percent.

The Chevrolet Silverado regained the titled of best-selling truck from the Ford F-150, which had held the title for two years running.

The Ford Escape held on to its status as the state's best-selling SUV for the second year in a row.

The Silverado was not only the best-selling truck, but also the best-selling vehicle overall. Consumers bought 3,768 new Silverados last year.

The second-best selling vehicle and truck was the F-150 with 3,268 sold, followed by the GMC Sierra in third at 1,934. The top three trucks in 2011 were the F-150, Silverado and Ford Ranger.

In the SUV category, dealers sold 1,887 Ford Escapes, followed by 1,545 Toyota Rav 4s and 1,390 Kia Sorentos.

The big surprise came in the car category, where Chevrolet loosened Toyota's grip as West Virginians' favorite.

The Chevrolet Cruze held a firm grip on the top spot last year, with dealers selling 1,917 new cars. The Toyota Camry came in second at 1,392 units sold, followed by the Ford Fusion at 1,373.

The top sellers in 2011, by comparison, were the Camry, Ford Focus and Fusion.

The Cruze, which replaced the Cobalt in the Chevy lineup, is a newcomer to the top-sellers list.

Jeff Herrmann, Chevrolet sales manager at the Joe Holland dealership in South Charleston, said the Cruze has caught on with consumers nationwide. Dealers have sold more than 40,000 new units for each of the last five months, he said.

The car includes many of the standard features found in other cars, but Herrmann said the GM five-year, 100,000-mile Powertrain warranty is a key selling point.

It also requires little maintenance.

He said Chevrolet recommends the first scheduled maintenance at the 100,000-mile mark, and that's just to change the spark plugs.

"One of the biggest things is piece of mind," Herrmann said. "Safety and lack of maintenance are what people are looking for.

"The simple facts are that Chevrolet designed and brought this car in to compete with the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, and I think they accomplished that," he said. "It's a proven winner."

Overall, state auto dealers sold 70,509 new vehicles in 2012, up 14 percent from the 61,818 sold in 2011. That increase is slightly better than national sales, which rose 13 percent to 14.4 million units sold or leased, according to National Automobile Dealers Association data.

Ruth Lemmon, president of the state association, said the consumer appetite for newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles boosted sales for local car dealers in 2012.

"A lot of it was pent-up demand and fuel economy - the cost of gas played a big role," Lemmon said.

She said after the financial collapse of 2008, consumers put off buying new cars. As a result, cars on the road today are typically older than those of prior years.  

"Right now, the average age of a vehicle on the road is about 11 years," she said.

But she said many older vehicles get only 12 to 14 miles per gallon of gas.

That might have been OK when gas was $1.50 a gallon, but with today's $3 plus, gas guzzlers are cash guzzlers.

A new vehicle boasting 30-plus miles per gallon is enticing.

Herrmann said that was one of the pluses for the Cruze. Some Cruze models boast fuel economies of up to 42 miles per gallon.

Also helping is the state's $7,500 tax credit for consumers who buy alternative fuel or hybrid vehicles.

While the tax credit has been around since 2011, Lemmon said consumers only recently caught onto its advantages.

"It was just kind of picked up on in the last six months," she said.

"A credit is much more attractive than a deduction," she said. "The general public says, 'Gee, I can get a $7,500 tax credit, and if my tax credit is more than what I pay in taxes, then I get to keep that money.' "

With gas prices expected to stay around $3.30 a gallon or more in 2013, and with the tax credit still in place for West Virginia consumers, car dealers expect consumers to continue to trade up to more fuel-efficient vehicles.  

"We're really excited about 2013," Lemmon said.

NADA expects U.S. auto sales to top 15.4 million this year, as pent-up demand, low interest rates, declining unemployment, a shortage of used vehicles and improving home values all help persuade consumers to buy new cars.

"Nationally, the last time we were even close to that was back in 2006 and 2007, when we hit 16 million," Lemmon said.

The market also may get a boost when the state's top-selling vehicle, the Silverado, rolls out its 2014 model in the fourth quarter of this year.

Consumers can get a preview of the 2014 model next week at the West Virginia Auto Show in Charleston.  

Chevrolet will have a demo version of the new Silverado on display, and Lemmon thinks consumers will like the latest update to the brand.

"It's a complete redo - the engineering, the electronics, the features, the body style, all of that," she said. "That will be very exciting."

The Auto Show hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 25 and 26, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at the Charleston Civic Center.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at or 304-348-5148.



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