New Jersey car sales have come back, following a low point seven years ago during the recession.

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The state's new car dealerships expanded collectively into an industry in the state worth more than $33 billion. And that is a 58 percent increase over the "bad old days" at the height of the recession in 2009.

New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers President Jim Appleton says as the economy goes in Jersey, so go car sales.

"When job growth is back, we know that when credit is back, we know that when consumer confidence is back, that those are all, green lights for a surging auto market."

Appleton says in 2009 Jersey dealers suffered a 40 percent drop in sales. During that year, sales activity dropped from about a half-million new passenger cars and light trucks to 340,000. He says "it was a very dark time for the car business."

New Jersey has 510 new car dealerships. According to Appleton, they are leading the economic recovery in the state by hiring and rebuilding facilities and investing in communities, "and that has really had a "ripple effect," not just the jobs in new car dealerships, but jobs all across the spectrum in this state."

Appleton says the New Jersey car business has rebounded steadily, "as the car business has come back, so too have jobs."

The South Jersey car business has been a bit slower. Jim Appleton says some of the slowness in South Jersey has to do with how you look at the statistics.

"As it turns out, new car sales in the southern part of the state were not as affected by the economic downturn as they were in the central and northern parts of the state. And as a result, the trough was not as deep, and so the climb back was not as pronounced."

Appleton pins some of the South Jersey reverses on the many problems in Atlantic City. He says that has created a drag on the retail markets across the board, and new car dealerships are not immune to that. But he adds that the the recovery in South Jersey is very strong.

A report from NJ CAR shows that more than 36,000 people work in new car dealerships across the state, and tens of thousand of others enjoy a living maintaining facilities, building facilities and in the related industries.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5