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Lindley Estes is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Lindley Estes.

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2012 was a good year for local car dealers

Last year was a good one for Fredericksburg-area automotive dealerships.

There were 15,356 new vehicles registered in the Fredericksburg area in 2012, according to recently released Virginia Automobile Dealers Association data.

That was up 12.4 percent over 2011 registrations, which rose 15.1 percent over the 2010 figures. There were also year-over-year gains in 2010, meaning local registrations have now gone up three straight years after falling in 2009 amid a severe recession.

In a figure that shows the extent of the recovery since the depths of the recession, local registrations were up 40 percent in 2012 compared with the 2009 figures.

The VADA gets new vehicle registration data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. A new vehicle registered in the Fredericksburg area (the city and Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties) wasn’t necessarily purchased locally, but registrations do tend to be a good indicator of local sales.

Tim Pohanka — whose family runs Nissan, Hyundai and Honda dealerships in the region — said 2012 was in fact a strong year for sales. He expects the momentum to continue in 2013.

Pohanka attributed the strength to the rapidly growing age of customers’ cars, a trend due in part to people holding off on big purchases during the worst of the recession. Low interest rates, better gas mileage on newer models and available financing have also helped.

The average vehicle in Virginia is now older than at any time since data started being kept 70 years ago, said VADA Chief Information Officer Michael Allen.

“We’re starting to feel that pent-up demand breaking,” Allen said.

He said job growth and increased consumer confidence have also helped. Further, used-car inventories have dropped due to people holding onto their cars longer. That has increased prices for used cars, resulting in a smaller margin between new and used vehicles.

Allen said statewide, new vehicle registrations went up 8.7 percent in 2012 from the year before, meaning the local growth rates surpassed the state figures.