New car sales — a major component of California’s sales tax base — are down substantially in the state, according to a trade group.

New light-vehicle registrations were down 18.5% in the first nine months of the year compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the California Auto Outlook, published this week for the California New Car Dealers Association.

New car sales in California were down even more than the nationwide figure of 12.7%, according to the report.

“Clearly, new vehicle sales in the state have been adversely impacted by the severity of the credit crunch and the struggling real estate market,” the report said.

Not only were car sales down, the vehicles that were sold were increasingly smaller — and cheaper — compacts.

“The pattern of rising market share for smaller, fuel efficient cars, and declining share for pickups and SUVs has been firmly established for most of this year,” the report said. “The subcompact car segment had the largest market share increase during the first nine months of this year versus the same period last year, while the full-size pickup segment had the sharpest decline.”

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