Hall County car sales stayed strong through the pandemic and have hit a recent hot streak.
“We’re selling them faster than they can get here,” said Mark Passmore, a sales manager at Hardy Chevrolet Gainesville.
Despite an economic downturn caused by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, last year was a record breaking sales year for Hardy Chevrolet, Passmore said, and 2021 is on pace to be even better.
“It was one of the most challenging years I remember in my 27 years of car business, but when the final numbers were tallied we actually had a record-breaking year,” he said.
David Orr, the general sales manager at Milton Martin Honda, said their sales have been up in 2021 as well, compared to 2020. “During COVID (in 2020) we were doing 60 to 70 new cars (per month), now we’re doing 100,” Orr said.
Jacky Jones Lincoln has also seen an increase in sales ever since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, but sales manager J.T. Hartman said they have not had to increase prices, despite the demand. His dealership has had to go through several channels to find cars including auctions, lease return sites and auto shows, and he has sold cars to places like Carmax and car rental companies, because they are low on supply.
“I had to hire an off-duty police officer to direct traffic into the dealership (because of increased traffic)” Hartman said.
He credited the uptick in demand to people wanting to feel good again after a long stage of stress from the pandemic.
“What makes you feel good when you’re depressed? You go out and buy yourself something,” Hartman said.
These increased car sales have turned into additional revenue for local governments that they did not see coming a year ago. Hall County Schools budgeted $6.5 million in title ad valorem tax but reported about $9.1 million in receipts as of May 31. The district’s fiscal year begins July 1.
“A year ago if you had told me our TAVT receipts would have doubled, I would have laughed,” said Jonathan Boykin, finance officer of Hall County Schools.
The 6.6% TAVT set by the state is distributed across municipalities, counties and school districts, depending on where the car is registered, Hall County Tax Commissioner Darla Eden said.
Recent months have been the most lucrative. Boykin said the school system only saw a small dip in the first months of the pandemic, starting in March 2020, and since then, tax revenues have remained steady or increased compared to pre-pandemic months.
“The most recent trend that has really driven it up is used car sales,” Boykin said.
Passmore said this has been true for Hardy Chevrolet as well. Inventory has been more scarce of late for new cars because of computer chip shortages, he said, and this makes providing a vehicle for buyers twice as much work. In turn, the used car market has been way up, Passmore said.
“It’s a great time for someone to trade in a used vehicle … provided you can find a vehicle that you want to replace (it),” Passmore said.
But, he said, he does not know when inventory will be back to normal for his dealership. Chevrolet has cut down on certain models like the Malibu and is mostly supplying pickup trucks and other large vehicles lately, Passmore said.
Orr from Milton Martin Honda said he expects supply to return to normal capacity in July or August.
It’s hard to pin the increase in auto sales on any one variable. But, Boykin said, the trend makes sense, because while the supply is constrained, causing new and used vehicle prices to go up, at the same time, many people have more money to spend after saving during the pandemic or receiving federal stimulus money. Eden said people may have more discretionary spending money now from a combination of stimulus, the recent child tax credit or other savings.
Hartman from Jacky Jones Lincoln said he’s seen these trends in RV, boat and Jet Ski sales as well.
“If it wasn’t the stimulus money, then it’s money they had stuck away,” Hartman said.
Other districts like those in Fulton, Forsyth and Clarke counties, have seen similar trends, Boykin said. And these trends are true nationally, according to reports from J.D. Power.
Revenue has been strong for Hall County Schools in the past year. A year ago, the district expected they would have to use $20 million from their reserves, Boykin said, but with the combination of strong TAVT returns, and the more significant funds received from the federal CARES Act and restored state funding, the district will be able to add to their reserves instead.
“Instead of using $20 million it’s closer to the opposite direction now,” Boykin said. “We’re going to be building an additional $20 million of reserves and then trying to use those funds appropriately over the coming years.”