More might be buying cars

Michelle Page pondered the question: Was she looking to buy, or just looking?

The Marietta resident was at the Atlanta International Auto Show this week along with her husband, Solon Page, eyeing the scores of new cars and trucks on display through Sunday at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Yes, she concluded: She really was looking to buy.

“A pre-children car,” she said with a laugh. With “just a little something under the hood.”

“A midlife crisis car,” chided Solon.

No matter. The couple’s plan is welcome news for automakers and dealers who appear to have emerged from troublesome times into better days.

Auto sales in the U.S. rose 15.7 percent last month compared to February 2011. That amounted to a seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate of 15.1 million vehicles, the best pace since February 2008.

The head of General Motors sales in the U.S. recently said he expects the auto industry to continue to be a bright spot in the nation’s rebounding economy.

Atlanta auto show goers said they aren’t entirely surprised at the positive turn.

Rising fuel prices and relatively low-interest rates on new vehicles are among the reasons they cited for increased buyer interest. Some are looking for a vehicle that gets better gas mileage than their current ride, and the lower rates make the economics even more attractive.

Auto show attendee Marvin Mann of Ellenwood said he was “just browsing,” but added, “If I were buying, it would be a gas saver.”

Cory Patton of Alpharetta, who was at the show with his father, Tony, observed that buying a gas miser at a low-interest rate would amount to a purchase that “becomes cheaper” over time.

Tony Patton, who bought a year ago, said he isn’t in the market.

One negative note mentioned by showgoers is the uncertain state of the economy.

“With the job situation being what it is, I’d hate to invest in a car and then lose my job,” Mann said.

The Pages acknowledged the state of the overall economy, but said they’re confident about their own financial well-being — enough to go ahead and add a third vehicle to their household.

Other vehicle owners, they reasoned, are also ready to buy, if only because of pent-up demand from years of waiting for the economy to turn.

“It just comes to the point where you have to replace what you have,” Michelle Page said. Added Solon Page, “People are saying, ‘I’ve been holding on and holding on and holding on. My situation’s not so bad.”