Last year was tough for Continental Motors and other Anchorage car dealers.
"Our company has now been in business for 40 years and for the first time in 2009, we had layoffs," Martensen said.
The first quarter of this year shows signs that the economy may be switching gears.
"Nationally Lithia is up almost 6 percent, so we're up way higher here," said Jim Benkert, with Lithia Dealerships.
Benkert told the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce that new car sales are up at Lithia's Anchorage dealerships by about 35 percent compared to the first quarter of last year. Used cars are up 21 percent, for a total 27 percent increase in sales.
The month of March was a blockbuster.
"Seventy-nine percent is a huge increase. So it was a lot better March than we'd had in a long time. And the other dealers in the audience, I'm sure had equally good results. Things are good in Anchorage right now," Benkert said.
Benkert says Lithia tightened its belt in 2009 and managed to ride out the recession in the black.
One thing that helped improve the bottom line: The Cash for Clunkers program.
"We sold a record number of cars," Benkert said.
The federal program was designed to stimulate the auto industry by giving buyers incentives to trade in gas guzzlers for new fuel efficient models.
"There is absolutely no doubt that it was a huge success. In the time period we sold almost 900 new cars in a matter of six weeks," Martensen said.
The Cash for Clunkers sales helped Continental Motors in a big way.
"We were selling 20 of these a month," Martensen said of a Nissan Titan pickup truck.
But when fuel prices shot up, no one wanted big trucks anymore.
The company ended 2009 with sales down 20 percent.
But without the Clunkers program, business might have been down as much as 35 percent.
As for the future, Anchorage car dealers say they're cautiously optimistic.
They say younger customers are very different. Their use of cell phones and social media on the Internet make it challenging.
Unlike their parents, younger consumers see brand loyalty as a thing of the past.
"That is changing, and it's changing dramatically," said Red Bradley, Morrison Auto Group's marketing manager.
Anchorage car dealerships frequently rank at the top of sales nationally.
It could be that Alaska's economy has some extra wheels to keep sales going during tough times.
Among some of the unique features: The Permanent Fund Dividend and Native corporation dividends.
There's also the military.
Continental Motors believes its increase in sales this year may be due to the number of soldiers returning home from the Middle East.
Contact Rhonda McBride at email@example.com