JESSE SNYDER

Warning: Superlative shortage ahead!

Automotive News | April 3, 2012 - 5:02 pm EST

Auto sales are booming. Great. Super. Just ask manufacturers and dealers.

On second thought, don’t ask dealers. One, they’re going to tell you anyhow. And two, they’re running out of both superlatives and ways to express themselves.

Be nice. Some dealers could hurt themselves.

We all remember 2009, just about as bad as it gets. Survivors have been crawling back for three years. They’re not out of the chasm yet.

But suddenly, sales are increasing rapidly, credit is widely available, incentives aren’t needed, and with internal costs leaned down, profits soared. U.S. dealer margins averaged 2.6 percent of revenue last year, a record.

And just as suddenly, everybody is struggling to explain exactly, precisely, how fabulous the market is. All at once, “good” sounds lame. We’re so very beyond “better.” “Best?” Well yeah, but what’s even better than “best?”

Now manufacturers issue press releases: dry and factual, so their bragging is easy to quantify. For example, today, BMW cited for the group “best first-quarter sales since the record year of 2007” and “Best quarter ever for Mini brand.” Nissan North America said March “sets all-time single month sales record,” although its headline was, ahem, bold-faced and all caps.

But dealers are, by profession and personality, storytellers. And sales have been improving for months. So kinda like the last fisherman of the evening at the local “Fish Tales,” topping the other guys will take a little imagination and effort.

Dealers have been a pretty happy group the past several months, but lately I’m hearing them search for new words to explain that sales are even better than the last time. Superlatives are failing them. They’re running out of new “bests.”

I’ve heard Florida dealer Al Hendrickson Sr. and Minnesota dealer Kjell Bergh describe “best-ever” sales for specific calendar months.

In previous stories I noted Indiana dealer Bob Rohrman’s “Woo-hoo!” to describe a “best-ever any month.”

But this week, even a “best-ever any month” is losing its verbal punch.

Selling 90 Fiat 500s in March is not enough for Lisa Copeland, general manager of Fiat of Austin, Texas. So, how good is that? “I outsold seven of the Chrysler stores in my district,” she said.

And a bit north in Amarillo, General Manager Mike Good of Street Toyota, normally an eloquent storyteller -- “It’s so flat here you can watch your dog run away for two days” -- needed to warm up yesterday to convey the wonders of March. How’s business, Mike?

“Best March ever,” he started. “Our best month ever.” He cleared his throat. “In fact, we had a better month, new and used, than any dealer has ever had in our market area.”

Ah, got it. That’s a pretty good month.

So far, dealers haven’t actually run out of superlatives. But they are clearly running short on fresh descriptions, so it’s time for some conservation, perhaps even rationing.

Jesse Snyder is senior writer for Automotive News.Jesse Snyder is senior writer for Automotive News.

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