Jennifer Alcocer already leases one electric car, but last week she was looking at a second, a new model that on a single charge can travel more than twice the distance of her current ride.
“I’ve totally had the range anxiety,” said Alcocer, referring to the fear that electric vehicle drivers have about running out of power before reaching the next charging station.
Enter the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, an electric-powered hatchback with an EPA-estimated range of 238 miles and a base price of $37,495. The Bolt, this month named car of the year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, is eligible for $10,000 in state and federal tax credits for buyers.
“It’s Tesla range for half the price,” said David Barnes, general manager at Platinum Chevrolet in Santa Rosa, where Alcocer and husband Kevin Tedrick stopped by Tuesday afternoon.
Sonoma County auto dealers enjoyed strong sales again last year, and high-tech offerings like electric vehicles and advanced safety features continue to attract buyers into showrooms.
Even so, it’s unclear how much more sales can grow at a time when the wider new car market appears to be slowing. And Sonoma County’s used car business just got more competitive with the recent addition in Santa Rosa of CarMax, the nation’s largest used car dealer with a website that allows local buyers to easily find and acquire vehicles from other company stores in the region.
“Anyway you cut it, business is extremely good in Sonoma County,” said Jim Bone, the dealer and a partner in the Jim Bone Auto Group in Santa Rosa.
Car sales, he said, have benefited from strong employment and rising wages.
For the first 10 months of 2016, Sonoma County dealers sold 18,546 new cars and light trucks, according to global information services company Experian. That was just 240 more than from the same period in 2015, but still on track to be the best year in more than a decade.
In contrast, during the depths of the last recession, county car dealers sold just 9,700 new vehicles in all of 2009. In 2010, the total rose to fewer than 10,600 vehicles.
However, after an unprecedented six straight years of increasing sales, the state’s new car market “seems to be running out of steam,” the California New Car Dealers Association stated in a November outlook.
Sales growth for new cars was flat in the third quarter. But the state’s buyers still purchased roughly 2 million new cars in 2016 for the second straight year, the best results in a decade.
“We’re slowing down near the top,” said Brian Maas, president of the California New Car Dealers Association. “That’s the good news.”
The association forecasts dealers will enjoy relatively strong new car sales for at least the next two years. The market is benefiting from rising household incomes, relatively low interest rates and new tech innovations.
The innovations include recent advanced safety features, including a car’s ability to automatically brake to avoid a pedestrian in a crosswalk or another vehicle making a quick stop.
Also available this year are more affordable electric cars that can travel from, say, Santa Rosa to Redding on a single charge.