Car dealers looking at car tag slump

Thursday, August 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Waiting for lower car tags to kick in before you buy that new vehicle? Wait no longer.

Incentives, rebates and tag-cutting deals will be part of the car-buyers guide for the next six weeks as dealers work to lure customers to the showroom before lower tag rates go into effect Oct. 1.

"We'll do anything to keep sales high," Danny Dewberry, new car sales manager at Bob Moore Auto Group in Oklahoma City, said Wednesday. "We don't want to sit here and do nothing until October 1."

David Stanley Chevrolet in Oklahoma City is gearing up for an advertising blitz in September in hopes of boosting pre-tag reform sales with promises to help customers pay higher fees, said new car sales manager Paul Anthony.

"I think it will encourage sales," Anthony said. "We're on a record pace for the year and we don't want to go through a 40-day slump waiting for that to go into effect."

Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a car tag reform package that lawmakers placed on a statewide ballot after Gov.

Frank Keating vetoed it for the second straight year.

Car tag fees amounting to hundreds of dollars a year for a single vehicle are reduced to no more than $85 a year under the new rules.

Car buyers hoping to cash in on the new rates might wait until after Oct. 1 before they sign the dotted line.

"I imagine people are going to want to wait until October 1 to buy a car," said John Knox, used car manager at Hudiburg Auto Group in Oklahoma City.

Knox said paying the tag, title and license costs for customers will be an incentive to buy sooner. He said his dealership already pays those costs in about 40 percent of its used car sales.

"We've had people come in and have mentioned, 'I want to see what the Legislature does on this tag deal,"' said Mike Combs, general sales manager of Saturn of south Oklahoma City.

"We may see over the next 30 to 40 days an impact on new car sales. I don't think used car sales will suffer any," Combs said.

Chris Wood, general sales manager at Eskridge Autogroup, said some customers are considering buying a car before Oct. 1 and waiting until afterwards to pay for their tag to take advantage of the lower rates.

But Kitty Mellen, a rate clerk at Classen Tag Agency, said car buyers should not expect to buy now and pay lower tag fees later.

Vehicles purchased before Oct. 1 will be assessed at the old tag rates, Mellen said. A penalty will be added if the higher tag costs are paid more than 30 days beyond the sales date.

"It's going to hurt a lot of people because they're holding onto this notion," Mellen said.

Sales at some dealerships have been down the past two or three months while voters considered the future of car tags. But Oklahoma car dealers said they expect lower tag rates to be a boon to car sales in the state.

"They're all positive about it," said Anthony, whose dealership averages 400 new and used car sales a month. "We're looking to maybe take that to the 450 point. And for a single point franchise, that is substantial."

Lower tag rates will also cut the number of Oklahoma car buyers who shop for better rates at car dealers in other states, particularly Texas.

"I think it will counter it. We hope and think that it will improve new car sales," Dewberry said.