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Jan. Auto Sales off 3% in Sign of Impending Recovery

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Sherri Cruz

Sales of new autos in the county fell 3% in January from a year earlier as the decimated business starts to stabilize.

Dealers here sold 8,403 vehicles in January, based on auto registrations, the Newport Beach-based Orange County Automobile Dealers Association said.

The monthly decline is one of the lowest in the past year or so for local dealers.

In 2009, sales here fell 26% to 96,289 vehicles, making last year the worst in recent memory.

Sales from November through January actually rose, according to the dealers association. They were up nearly 8% to 25,023 for the three months from a year earlier.

Auto sales still have a long way to go to get back to where they were before the downturn. For November through January of 2006, dealers here sold 45,120 vehicles.

Some brands saw higher sales in January, including Hyundai and Kia, which have been the darlings of the downturn. Hyundai was up 22% to 364 autos sold in January. Kia was up 142% to 97 autos.

Toyota, the largest seller of autos here, saw a 13% gain to 1,753 vehicles sold in January, despite its recall troubles that started in November.

The full effect of the recalls still could be in the offing, said James Bell, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book Co., based in Irvine.

“We’ve seen a pretty marked drop-off for the Toyota brand,” he said.

Honda, OC’s No. 2 brand in terms of the number of autos registered, was down 2.5% to 1,086 vehicles in January.

Luxury brands saw declines in January, except for Lexus, which was up 7% to 605 autos. Mercedes-Benz was down 2% to 680 autos. BMW was down 8% to 494 autos. BMW’s Mini sales fared better, rising 9% to 110.

The Detroit three fell in January: Ford was down 19% to 604 autos; General Motors, down 30% to 107; and Chrysler, down 77% to 27.

Nationally, auto sales in February were flat, another sign of stabilization. OC sales figures for February aren’t due for another month or so.

Toyota Dealers

Local Toyota dealers are taking care of recalled cars, according to John Sackrison, executive director of the Orange County Automobile Dealers Association.

“The Toyota dealers in this area are super strong,” he said.

Some dealers are staying open 24 hours a day to take care of the fixes, according to Sackrison.

But Toyota is likely to face fallout, Kelley Blue Book’s Bell said.

Of the 15 million monthly visitors to Kbb.com, more people are shopping for other brands, such as Ford, GM and Kia, he said.

Toyota’s stumble could be an opportunity for others to gain market share, he said.

But in the long run, Toyota will remain among the top auto brands here, according to Bell.

“Toyota will have a rightful place in the future, but it will be a smaller place,” he said.

Online, Full-Time

Entrepreneur Michaella Pahl of Aliso Viejo comes from a family of fashionistas. Her mother was a model in the Philippines and her grandmother, 72, still loves to shop for clothes, Pahl said.

“It would probably be an understatement to say every person in my family has a shopping addiction,” Pahl said.

She recently quit her day job in telecommunications to spend more time nurtur-

ing her online boutique, House of Plum Red.

In the few months since the boutique was launched, it’s done far better than she expected, according to Pahl.

House of Plum Red sells cheap but stylish clothing in the vein of Forever 21. Nothing is more than $50.

She sells things that she would wear, which ranges from feminine to grungy. She sometimes gets inspiration from Look Book, an online site where people post photos of themselves modeling their favorite fashions.

Pahl buys the clothing from local makers and from overseas.

She’s been marketing the site through Facebook and by word of mouth.

“I’ve been getting a lot of referrals from friends,” Pahl said.

Next up, she said she plans to launch a handbag line and a men’s line, which she will have a hand in designing.

South Coast Plaza Fundraiser

South Coast Plaza’s annual Angelitos Card program raised $223,000 for Big Brother Big Sisters of Orange County in 2009.

The shopping event, held for a week in October, raises money by selling Angelito cards for $60. All the money goes to the charity.

South Coast Plaza stores then offer 20% discounts to shoppers with cards. The event, organized by the women’s volunteer auxiliary Angelitos de Oro, is set this year for Oct. 14 to 20.

Forever 21 at Fashion Island

Opening this summer: a newly expanded Forever 21 at Fashion Island.

The clothing store is set to be two stories and 36,000 square feet, triple its current size. Forever 21 is reopening in the former Circuit City site.

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