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Car Sales Weaken, But Not As Much As Expected: Wall Street Journal

September 17, 2001

In the first big shopping day since last week's tragic terrorist attack, nervous car dealers around the country reported that Saturday's business was significantly slower than normal, though not as bad as many of them had

feared, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Still, auto makers are bracing for tougher times during the next few weeks. Even before Tuesday's terror attacks, auto-industry

officials were worried by fresh signs of falling consumer confidence and rising unemployment. Detroit auto makers had expected September car and light-truck sales to ease from last year's unusually strong pace, but

stay in line with August's 16.3 million annualized sales pace.

Industry executives say they are closely monitoring reports of daily sales and showroom activity, looking for clues to consumers' attitudes.

But among the generally downbeat reports, there were some signs that consumers haven't been deterred by the terrorism to the degree that had been expected. At Sonic Automotive Inc.'s 165 franchises nationwide, weekend business "appears to have been stronger than our initial expectations," said President Scott Smith. He had predicted a drop of between 15 percent and 20 percent. "People are continuing to buy automobiles. They're trying to get

back to a sense of normalcy."

Paul Taylor, economist for the National

Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), McLean, Va., said sales through Saturday at about a dozen dealerships he has talked with were down an average 25 percent over a normal week, and traffic at the showrooms was even slower. "This

is the initial reaction" to a tragedy, according to Taylor.

Of course, the more important question is "How long will the slowdown last?" Taylor, who had been predicting a slow fall even before last week's tragic events, is cutting his sales estimates for the remainder of the year by

100,000 vehicles, with auto sales for the full year on track for 16.5 million vehicles, slower than the past two years, but still the third-best year ever.

Despite the industry's cautious optimism, dealers said they were continuing to keep inventories lean and would be watchful of any news developments that might further sour consumer sentiment.

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