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As the Utah Auto Show opens this weekend, the state's auto dealers are hoping it portends better times in 1992.

According to sales figures for the third quarter of 1991 released by the Utah State Tax Commission this week, sales of new cars and trucks in Utah dropped 11.7 percent in July, August and September of last year, compared to a nationwide decline of only 7.7 percent.The Tax Commission said the 9,160 new cars registered in the state during during the third quarter represented a 12.8 percent drop from the same three months a year earlier. Again, the local decline was worse than the national figures, which showed a drop of 9.2 percent in new car sales nationwide during third quarter 1991 vs. the same quarter in 1990.

Janice J. Perry, spokeswoman for the State Tax Commission, said all three domestic automakers had lower third quarter sales in Utah with Ford Motor Co. down 11.1 percent. While sales of Fords were down 2.9 percent, sales of subsidiary Lincoln were off nearly 63 percent and Mercury nearly 23 percent.

General Motors and Chrysler marques fared even worse, said Perry.

Overall sales of GM cars declined 24 percent as a result of sales declines of 20.3 percent for Chevrolets, 29.5 percent for Oldsmobiles and 52.3 percent for Pontiacs. Buick sales were down 6 percent while Cadillac dropped 14.4 percent.

Chrysler Corp. suffered a 17.2 percent overall decline in Utah during the third quarter, as Dodge dropped 19.8 percent and Chrysler auto sales were down 49.7 percent. Plymouth sales dipped nearly 6 percent. AMC/Jeep Eagle were the only bright spot with combined sales up 5.3 percent in the third quarter.

Sales of Asian cars, principally Japanese, bucked the downward trend, said Perry, with an overall 6.3 percent rise in local sales during the third quarter. Infiniti, the upscale brand of Nissan Motors, was particularly hot as sales soared 510.5 percent. Strong gains also were recorded by Hyundai, up 14.7 percent; Mitsubishi, up 10.9 percent; and Lexus, the prestige brand for Toyota Motors, up 12 percent.

Honda sales grew 0.6 percent while its upscale sibling, Acura, logged an 8.1 percent increase. Sales of Nissans edged up 2.8 percent as did Toyotas, up 3.2 percent.

Mazda, Subaru and Daihatsu all declined, down 9 percent, 10.1 percent and 29.4 percent respectively.

With the exception of German marques BMW, up 11.4 percent and Mercedes-Benz, up 8 percent, all European makes showed double-digit sales declines in the third quarter, said Perry. Volkswagen was down 69.7 percent, Audi was down 82.1 percent, Volvo dropped 20 percent, Saab was off 39.3 percent and Porsche sales declined 61.5 percent.