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Toyota, Nissan scout dealership sites

Even for automakers that saw a sales drop nationally, Pasco was a busy market in 2003.

Published February 15, 2004

Renovations, relocations and new construction will keep Pasco auto dealers busy this year as they prepare for a countywide population boom and industry growth nationwide.

New products are coming out, interest rates are expected to remain low, and the county is seeing steady residential growth, said Tom Castriota, owner of Castriota Chevrolet in Hudson.

"I think it's going to be a positive year for '04," he said.

Auto manufacturers Toyota and Nissan are scouting sites to expand into central Pasco.

Toyota's likely spot is State Road 54 east of Interstate 75, which welcomed Heritage Ford in 1999 and Century Kia in 2003.

Kevin Sreenan, a Toyota regional vice president, said in October he expects the new dealership, laid out on 9 to 12 acres, to sell 1,500 to 2,000 cars and trucks a year.

A spokesman for Nissan North America said in November the manufacturer has paperwork pending on a Wesley Chapel site.

Meanwhile west Pasco dealers say they are expecting to top 2003 sales that ranged from modest for some dealers to explosive for newcomers.

In New Port Richey, Sun Toyota is expanding its operation with a new body shop and used car sales center this year. The moves come after Toyota saw an 8 percent sales increase nationally in 2003 and Sun Toyota saw a 20 percent increase in Pasco.

Gateway Honda, at Ridge Road and U.S. 19 in Port Richey, will begin one of the Bay area's larger expansions when it breaks ground this year on a $10 million facility across the street from its current location.

"The county is exploding with growth and so are we," dealership owner Tom Wood said when speaking of the plans last year. Honda will grow from about three and a half acres to 13 and go from a 15,000 square-foot facility to one that is 45,000 square feet.

In Hudson, Castriota Chevrolet saw a 2 percent sales increase in 2003 (totaling about 1,300 autos) despite a 4 percent drop in Chevrolet sales nationally.

"I think it has a lot to do with the population on (the west) side of the county continuing to grow even though the focus is on central Pasco," he said.

Manufacturers such as Hyundai, which debuted in Pasco last year with a 22,000-square-foot dealership in New Port Richey, dominated much of the market in late 2003.

Within five months of opening, the dealership jumped to the No. 7 Hyundai franchise in the United States, said its owner Scott Fink.

Seeking to compete in the changing market, other dealerships from Friendly Kia to Coastal Cadillac are in the midst of expansions along U.S. 19.

The activity comes as industry forecasters predict higher sales in 2004, an upswing for crossover vehicles and renewed interest in luxury cars.

In 2003, about 16.6-million automobiles were sold nationally, said Jeff Beddow, spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association.

"From a historical standpoint, that's quite strong," he said, although still below the 17.4-million autos sold in 2000.

But in 2004, the range will hit 16.7- to 17.1-million, Beddow said.

Nationally, industry analysts are predicting that "as corporate America rebounds so will demand for luxury cars," said Beddow.

And that leaves the door open for high-end manufacturers in Pasco, which lost luxury dealer Sunshine BMW-Volvo in Holiday in 1996.

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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