Nick Poli of Roscoe wants to buy a new vehicle, but he’s not in a hurry. He’s looking for the right deal, much like other consumers who seem to be waiting longer before they buy these days. After a strong start to 2007, dealers of new and used cars and trucks felt that slowdown keenly in July and August.

Nick Poli of Roscoe wants to buy a new vehicle, but he’s not in a hurry.

He’s looking for the right deal, much like other consumers who seem to be waiting longer before they buy these days. After a strong start to 2007, dealers of new and used cars and trucks felt that slowdown keenly in July and August.

Across Winnebago, Stephenson, Boone and Ogle counties, sales were lower in those two months than during the same period of 2005 and 2006. According to the Illinois secretary of state’s office, Rock River Valley residents registered 6,084 car and truck sales with the state in July, down from 8,033 in 2006 and 7,377 in 2005. In August, the number was 6,256, compared with 8,006 in 2006 and 7,207 in 2005.

The statistics, the latest available from the state, are not a 100 percent perfect indicator of automotive sales. The state counts where a car is registered, not where it is sold.

For example, if a Dixon resident bought a car in Rochelle, he would register it in Lee County and that’s where it would be included. Still, the vast majority of car sales usually are made in the same county where a person lives, and the data is a good indicator of how local lots are doing.

What happened? Dealers willing to talk about the numbers point to an unsteady economy that has people more concerned with paying everyday bills than buying a vehicle.

Some say even the August flooding was a factor.

Gary Dixon of Belvidere Motors, 1201 N. State St. in Belvidere has a theory that’s particularly relevant for the Rock River Valley. He said sales were down slightly for August, which he attributes somewhat to severe flooding during the first two weeks of the month.

“People lost their cars in the flood, but many of them were more concerned with putting more money into their homes once it was all over,” Dixon said.

The differences haven’t been dramatic, Dixon said. He said August numbers typically are lower because children return to school and families pay for more
education-related expenses that month.

Dixon added that July 2007 sales were up for his dealership, which sells new and used vehicles, over July 2006.

Ed Mecum Jr. said sales have been up in 2007 at Speedway Auto Mall, 1590 W. Lane Road, in Machesney Park. The dealership sells used cars and opened a second location about a year ago in the old Red Tag Motors space on North Alpine Road.

Mecum said Speedway is selling a range of vehicles this time of year, even SUVs despite the high cost of gas — two gas-guzzling Hummers left the lot this week.

“Stuff that you think wouldn’t sell is selling,” Mecum said.

Mecum said customers have shopped recently to trade a more-expensive car for a less-expensive vehicle to lower their payments. He also sees first-time buyers who don’t necessarily have home mortgages or kids at home, so they can afford a higher-end vehicle.

“The need doesn’t change,” Mecum said. “People are still buying cars because they need them for transportation.”

Poli, 18, eyed a 2006 blue Neon with a spoiler and a sunroof Thursday at Speedway with friend Adam Pratt, 19, of Roscoe.

Poli recently graduated from Hononegah High School and is working a full-time construction job, which allows him to save money until he finds the right deal. He drives a Dodge Dakota truck and wants to upgrade to a roomier vehicle.

“I’m not rushing it,” Poli said. “I’ve been out there looking for more than a year and saving more money as I go along.”

Joe McMahon, director of governmental affairs for the Illinois Auto Dealers Association, said nationwide auto sales were down about 10 percent for August and September.

“We think it’s home mortgages, the economy, everything. It’s snowballing,” McMahon said. “People are just taking a little longer and going slower before buying.”

McMahon did note that truck numbers were bigger so far in 2007 than for all of 2006.

While environmental leaders are pushing for smaller vehicles and better fuel economy, McMahon said buyers still want the room and the power of a bigger vehicle.

Rockford Register Star staff writer Melissa Westphal can be reached at 815-987-1364 or mwestpha@rrstar.com.