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Auto Sales Fall Short in 2003

January 2, 2004

Despite the rebate frenzy that continued to grip the auto industry in 2003, U.S. sales for the year are expected to end up at around 16.7

million cars and trucks, down slightly from 16.8 million units in 2002, according to the Detroit News.

Detroit's automakers once again lost market share to Asian and European rivals in 2003, according to the News. General Motors Corp., almost failed in its bid to gain market share for the third straight year -- despite offering big rebates -- "and probably wound up with 27.8 percent of the total U.S. vehicle market, versus 28.4 in 2002 and 28 percent in 2001," David Healy, an analyst with Burnham Securities Inc., said. Ford fared worse, Healy wrote, falling to about 20.5 percent of the market in 2003, down from 21.1 percent in 2001 and 22.7 percent 2001. DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler division dropped to 12.5 last year, from 12.9 percent in 2002

and 13 percent in 2001.

Foreign brands, meanwhile, continued their

seemingly inexorable climb in the United States, capturing 37.8 percent of the market, up from 34.8 percent in 2001, the News reported.

Analysts said the market should improve this year, however, particularly for Detroit's Big Three automakers as they each plan high-volume vehicle launches in 2004, the News said. And all automakers should get a bounce from the improving national economy, according to the News.

The sales pace might have been faster if snowstorms had not blanketed the East Coast in the first two weeks of December, said Paul Taylor,

chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). He called the region between Virginia and Maine "the mother lode of new car sales."

Ford will introduce about a half-dozen new models this year, including a redesigned Mustang and the Freestyle, a car-based sport utility vehicle. GM will launch 13 new models in 2004 and Chrysler will unveil nine of its own, according to the News.

But Taylor, of the automobile dealers association, said new products will only be part of the equation in 2004. "What remains to be seen is what the posture of the Big Three will be with regard to incentives," he said.

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