Heuberger Subaru continues to be the top-selling Subaru dealership in the country, selling vehicles both in and out of Colorado. (Photo by Cameron Moix)
Heuberger Subaru continues to be the top-selling Subaru dealership in the country, selling vehicles both in and out of Colorado. (Photo by Cameron Moix)

What started out as an average sales year for Colorado Springs auto dealerships soon turned into one of broken records — with continual population growth, a strong economy and freak hailstorms resulting in local new vehicle registrations that outpaced statewide trends.

According to data from the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, there were 30,990 new vehicles registered in the county during 2016 — compared to 26,585 in 2015 — which continues an upward trend in new vehicle registrations that has been climbing for more than a decade.

The leading brands among those registrations were Subaru with 3,505, Ford with 3,172 and Toyota with 3,019. The month with the most registrations was October, which accounted for 3,450, followed by December with 3,054.

Population growth in the region has been a deciding factor for that growth in recent years, helping boost total vehicle registrations, which have grown from 498,573 (324,570 for Colorado Springs) in 2011 to 576,719 (371,972 for Colorado Springs) in 2016, according to county records.

Heuberger Motors in Colorado Springs is consistently the top Subaru dealer in the country and continued to lead local sales throughout 2016. John Adams, the company’s director of operations, said he attributes part of its success to a brand that continues to grow in popularity — especially in Colorado and other mountain states.

“Subaru used to be a niche car company that used to be the best-kept secret,” he said. “Word has just gotten out that it’s a really great product by a really good company — so sales have gone up.”

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But another factor contributed to Colorado Springs having a seemingly stronger sales year than other locales, according to local dealers.

Adams said he thinks the majority of last year’s local sales numbers can be attributed to crazy weather this summer.

“The economy appears to be doing better, and we are experiencing population growth, but what I think really spurred a lot of the sales was the hail damage,” Adams said.

“That forced a lot of people to have to buy new vehicles because it totaled their car.”

Heuberger’s biggest spike in sales came after a July 28 hailstorm that wrecked cars and trucks across the county, Adams said.

The dealership sold 750 cars in that time. October saw 3,450 new vehicles registered in El Paso County (perhaps a lag created by the fact that buyers have 60 days from purchase to register), breaking the record for monthly sales previously set in August 2005.

“It was a madhouse at all the dealerships for that 30 to 45 days,” Adams said.

The spike in insurance claims — which ended up totaling thousands of vehicles — not only resulted in a great sales year, but a demanding one in which dealers were scrounging to find quality pre-owned vehicles to take to market.

“What’s really starting to hurt the market now is the lack of good, pre-owned vehicles, because everything got totaled,” he said. “We don’t do hail sales — we don’t do anything funny or special — we just advertise our vehicles and try to have good business practices, which seems to work pretty well.”

Adams said that because of the shortage, used vehicle prices in Colorado Springs and throughout the state are inflated and will likely stay that way throughout the winter months. That has resulted in buyers looking into purchasing newer cars than they might have planned on, he said.

Heuberger sold more than 6,000 new vehicles in 2016, according to Adams.

He said the number is down slightly from what was seen in 2015, but that is attributed to Colorado’s high demand for Subarus that created  inventory shortages for Heuberger and other Subaru dealers.

“Nearly every Subaru dealership, at one point or another, was completely out of one or two model lines,” he said. “That definitely put a little stopper on some of our sales, but Subaru is increasing production, and we’re expecting to have another great year.”

Evidence of the effect hailstorms have had on the pre-owned vehicle market can be found in a field along East Platte Avenue near Wooten Road, which is being used by online vehicle auction company Copart to store thousands of damaged vehicles.

A Copart representative could not be reached for comment.

Statewide decline

But the local success wasn’t repeated throughout the state of Colorado. New vehicle registrations across the state dropped in 2016.

According to the most recently available “Colorado Auto Outlook” report by the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association — released in January and covering the 2016 market through December — new vehicle registrations in the state fell 1.8 percent from 2015. Although this number doesn’t compensate for sales made by Colorado dealers to customers in other states, it does outline a general industry trend.

“Despite the decline, the market remained very strong, with registrations at about 200,000 units,” according to the report.

Over the same period, registrations of pre-owned vehicles in Colorado (7 years old or newer) saw a 7.4-percent increase.

The top registrations (by percentage of change) in 2016 were accounted for by Volvo (41.6 percent), Fiat (26 percent), Mitsubishi (23.9 percent) and Toyota/Scion (8.1 percent). However, longtime Colorado favorites actually lost market share, according to the data, including Subaru (-0.8 percent), Jeep (-2 percent) and Ford (-4.1 percent).

The statewide top seller for the year was Toyota/Scion, which accounted for 28,746 new vehicle registrations. And despite their decline in overall market share throughout last year, Subaru accounted for the second-most new vehicle registrations with 23,644 and Ford was a close third with 23,339.

Although statewide numbers illustrated a slight downward trend, sales remained consistent with most of the country (Americans purchased 17.55 million vehicles in 2016, according to autodata.com).