Las Vegas-based Findlay Automotive Group reported a 14 percent increase in sales for 2011, the first year of positive numbers since 2007, Chief Operating Officer Tyler Corder said Monday.
Consumers have been keeping cars longer, with an average age of 10.8 years for vehicles on the road, but as the economy improves, more people are buying new, he said.
"Car sales significantly declined in 2008 and 2009, and I think it's safe to say that we have come a long way since the decline started," he said.
Findlay Automotive sold more than 25,000 new vehicles at its 25 dealerships in Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Idaho, up from about 22,000 in 2010, Corder said. Findlay has 14 dealerships in Southern Nevada alone.
Along with more vehicle sales, Findlay has seen an increase in revenue from service and parts departments, Corder said.
The company beefed up its workforce by 15 percent, or 183 employees, and opened a new Volkswagen dealership in northwest Las Vegas and a Lamborghini dealership in Henderson in 2011.
The company's website recorded 653,000 inquiries from August through December, compared with about 400,000 inquiries in the same period of the previous year. There were almost 90,000 mobile hits on iPhones, iPads and tablets, said John Taylor, who handles Findlay's Internet marketing.
"In the car business today, many of the first signs of interest in purchasing a car is done via the Internet," he said. "Chances are that if the hit is via a mobile (device), the customer is usually on the lot."
Byron Klemaske, general manager of Findlay Kia at 5325 W. Sahara Ave., said business was up 80 percent at his dealership. His biggest concern in 2011 was that he couldn't get enough new cars to sell.
Automotive analysts predict new vehicle sales of 13.5 million to 14 million in 2012, up from 12.8 million last year.
There are several reasons why automobile dealers could see a breakout year.
The United States is going to add about 2.3 million new drivers annually, or roughly 50 million more drivers by 2035, Portland Cement Association chief economist Ed Sullivan projected at last week's World of Concrete trade show in Las Vegas.
With more cars being scrapped and cars on the street getting older, there's pent-up consumer demand for new cars.
Roughly 77 cars are registered in the United States for every 100 people, according to automotive industry analyst R.L. Polk & Co. That's down from 80 cars per 100 people in 2007, but up from the low 70s in the early part of the decade.
One thing that's key for new car buyers is availability of credit, Corder said. Qualified buyers have more options today as automobile finance companies that left Las Vegas during the worst of the recession have returned, he said.
"It got really tough to get a car loan in 2008 and 2009. We've found that finance has gotten more competitive. A lot of lenders are now more aggressive on what they'll approve to get their foot back in the door," Corder said.
Contact reporter Hubble Smith at email@example.com or 702-383-0491.