Sept. U.S. Auto sales likely to approach ’09 low

BY BRENT SNAVELY
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Sales of cars and trucks in September likely dropped to nearly the lowest point of the year after a surge in sales during July and August caused by the federal cash-for-clunkers incentive program.

J.D. Power and Associates estimates that the selling rate in September will be just 9.2 million cars and trucks when automakers report results on Thursday — second only to February’s 9.17 million rate.

The selling rate is what the sales would total for the whole year if demand remained constant for 12 months, adjusting for seasonal factors.

“It hasn’t been pretty,” said Bob Page, owner of Page Toyota in Southfield, where sales declined an estimated 35%

Cash-for-clunkers, which gave consumers cash vouchers toward a new fuel-efficient vehicle, caused such a spike in demand that it left many dealers with low levels of inventory and shoppers in September.

Page, who normally has 200 vehicles in inventory, started the month with just 18.

Chrysler, which shut down its plants earlier in the year during its bankruptcy, had less than a 15-day supply for six models at the end of August, said spokeswoman Kathy Graham. “Our production began catching up toward the end of this month,” Graham said.

Traffic at dealership showrooms declined 8% to 60.6% in September, depending on the state, with California experiencing the steepest decline, Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing research, said in a report last week.

“California has continued to be beyond miserable,” said Beau Boeckmann, vice president of Galpin Motors in southern California.

But with the cash-for-clunkers hangover, dealers and analysts said it’s hard to draw conclusions about the state of the nation’s economy based on September’s sales.

“I am looking at October as being the bellwether,” said Sam Slaughter, owner of Sellers Buick Pontiac GMC in Farmington Hills.

Ford sales analyst George Pipas and others gave a hopeful sign about October, saying sales during the second half of September improved.

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