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September Car Sales Seen Stronger Year on Year

September 26, 2003

September car sales in the United States are expected to slow from August's torrid pace, as the level of buyer incentives eases. But sales could still be a little stronger than a year ago as analysts see results, to be reported on Oct. 1, coming in at an annual adjusted rate of around 16.5 million to 17 million vehicles, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

Dow Jones noted that industry sales last September were 16.3 million vehicles, reported at an annual adjusted rate and, last month, sales rose to an adjusted 19 million vehicles, driven by incentives designed to clear out 2003 models.

Sales at General Motors, the world's largest carmaker, are expected to be about 14 percent higher than last September, analyst Ronald Tadross at Banc of America Securities, wrote in a report on Sept. 25, according to Dow Jones. The report added that he sees GM picking up U.S. market share, to 28.3 percent, compared with 25.1 percent last year.

"GM's increase in market share and retail sales is driven by easy comps on a year ago basis, and strong truck sales," the analyst reportedly wrote.

Both Ford and Chrysler are expected to show lower year-over-year sales and a fall off in market share, analysts said, according to Dow Jones.

Goldman Sachs analyst Gary Lapidus reportedly sees Ford's September sales dropping by 10 percent, and Chrysler's sales down 13 percent, compared with last year. The U.S. carmakers are "suffering intense competition from Toyota, Honda and Nissan," the analyst wrote, according to Dow Jones, which added that Tadross believes they'll fare a little better, with Ford's September sales down 4 percent compared with last year, and Chrysler's off 9 percent.

According to Dow Jones, Lapidus wrote on Sept. 25 that, based on GM's strong sales performance, the Big Three U.S. carmakers should record a U.S. market share of 59 percent in September, better than the lowest-ever monthly market share of 57.9 percent posted in August this year.

Dow Jones noted that all of the Big Three U.S. carmakers have continued to use generous incentives to sell 2003 models, and the new 2004 models haven't been totally immune to special deals, while higher than normal inventories are coming down, though the number of unsold vehicles at the Big Three is still higher than last year.

According to Dow Jones, Lapidus wrote that Ford's inventories at the end of September will be 30 percent higher than normal, with Chrysler's inventories running 20 percent higher and GM's 10 percent higher. "We expect the Big Three inventory to be at 30 percent above normal at the year-end, assuming fourth quarter production schedules remain unchanged, and October-December adjusted sales of 16.5 million light vehicles, which is consistent with our full year sales estimate of 16.6 million light vehicles," Lapidus reportedly wrote.

NADA Chief Economist Paul Taylor pointed out that Labor Day weekend helped increase August sales numbers to make last month as strong as August 2002. September sales only need to end up above 1.2 million units to keep year-to-date sales on track. Sales last September were 1.22 million units, following 1.7 million in August, after zero percent financing was brought back.

This year, the May-through-August period was uniformly strong, with each month, at or above sales of 1.5 million light vehicles-- a sign that economic recovery is making consumers more willing to commit to new-car purchases, according to Taylor.

Dow Jones said the carmakers are expected to discuss production schedules when they host monthly conference calls on Oct. 1.

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