After a year and a half of pandemic, are you ready to hit the road? To go SOMEWHERE? You’re not alone.

As Yakima’s sweltering summer draws to a close, area residents are still in the grips of “vehicle fever,” according to local dealerships. Some folks are buying trucks to pull travel trailers and escape pandemic confinement. Others, including one car salesman with whom I spoke, are drawn to luxury cars just to find a little happiness.

“It’s crazy busy,” observed Bill Charles, a salesman with the Steve Hahn Auto Group in Yakima.

“We expected a downturn when COVID hit, but business has been spectacular.” Even Charles admits to buying a 2007 silver Corvette convertible, which he laughingly attributes to “mid-life crisis.”

Sales reps offer several explanations for why so many vehicles are moving. They point out that some folks are retiring and/or have concerns about planes and hotels for travel during the pandemic, so they’re buying motor homes and trucks to pull them on the road to freedom.

Others may have saved stimulus money and/or haven’t traveled much, so they have funds to spend on a new purchase. Still others, like a “very distinguished” local woman who was shopping for an emerald green Mercedes convertible, simply want to treat themselves to something special.

Before you hit the car lots, however, you should know that new cars may be in somewhat short supply. COVID-19 shutdowns and a severe shortage of semiconductor chips, due to increased demand for personal electronics and even a fire that damaged a manufacturing plant in Japan, have delayed availability of thousands of vehicles.

“I’ve never seen demand outweigh supply as strong as it is right now,” said Jim Peterson, general manager of Lee Peterson Buick GMC of Yakima. The “highly coveted,” new Cadillac Escalade, for example, a luxury SUV that is “packed with technology” (including a specially lighted dash display and refrigerated glove box) is tough to keep on the lot. “We sell every one we can get. Most are pre-sold before they even get here,” he said. So, if the Escalade is on your wish list, you may have some time to save up for the $90,000-$120,000 purchase price.

One customer who had been waiting for about five months for a particular model of car, came to the lot and instead bought a Yukon Denali on the spot, Peterson recalled.

“She wanted to satisfy her aspirations for having a good summer, get back to normalcy and have some fun,” he said. “People just want something right now.”

Full-sized SUVs are really popular, agreed “Fresh” (Moe) Saied, floor manager at Prestige Motors in Yakima.

“Anything that has a third seat is really on fire right now,” as an alternative means of travel, he said. “A lot of people don’t want to sit on a plane with a lot of random people.” Instead, many are buying larger vehicles and going camping. “People who thought they’d never buy a minivan are buying a minivan now.”

One family who had not been spending travel money on planes and hotels came in and bought five cars one day — one for every member of the family, Saied recalled.

For those who want ultimate luxury, the 2021 C8 Corvette is “the hottest car we sell right now,” Saied said. This redesigned model, with an engine toward the back, will cost you somewhere around $100,000. Once again, there is a six- to eight-month wait for a new model, and, when one comes in, it may sell “in less than 24 hours.”

This time of year is also referred to as “Mustang season,” added J.T. Rivera, sales manager with Tom Denchel Ford in Prosser. Mustang convertibles, Camaros and Challengers are hot properties into early fall, he said. It’s typically a time for “buying the sports car of their dreams. They’re excited to have that car they’ve always wanted,” because, after all, “you can’t take it with you.” (A new Mustang convertible will cost $38,000 to $60,000, helping to get that extra cash off your hands.)

However, you can’t minimize the popularity of trucks in the Yakima Valley, Rivera pointed out.

Diesel trucks, in particular, are “really hot right now.” For example, as “a lot of people are retiring, selling their homes,” they’re buying trucks to haul travel trailers, he said. For those who want to travel, it’s “the new hotel on wheels.”

“After the lockdown, people wanted to get out,” agreed Bill Harris, owner of Bill Harris Used Cars in Selah. “Destination travel now is by car or RV.” Customers are especially interested in affordable vehicles with efficient fuel economy, he said. Since May or June of 2020, demand for used trucks and SUVs has increased.

Although many dealerships have dealt with “diminished inventory” over the past months, plus an increase in vehicle prices, Harris is optimistic about the future market.

“Prices are starting to creep down,” he noted. In the next three to six months, he predicts that “new car dealers should again have pre-COVID inventory levels.”

Representatives of numerous other car dealerships were too busy to even come to the phone, underlining the surge in car sales.

“Everybody is traveling. Everybody is driving,” Harris observed. “They do want to get out … We really want to put COVID and everything that it affected in the rear-view mirror.”

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