Analysts see more angst in August

More bad news for the Big 3. More uncertainty about the future.

Those are the conclusions industry analysts expect from August sales figures. The numbers, which will be released by automakers next week, will show an industry-wide decline of 5 percent to 7 percent from a year ago, they predict.

The analysts also warn there is little reason to expect trends to change significantly soon.

The Big 3 “have a fair amount of new product that should help them in the fall, but the best they can hope for is to stabilize market share,” said David Healy of Burnham Securities Inc.

Nevertheless, the industry as a whole could see a better fourth quarter, said a cautiously optimistic Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association.

He said consumers have heard a lot of bad economic news, but they soon will realize that laid-off people are finding new jobs, generally in small- and medium-sized companies. And they will have tax rebate checks to add to whatever incentives automakers put on 2002 vehicles.

“Households still have the means to spend. It’s the will that’s the concern here,” Taylor said.

DaimlerChrysler’s August 2001 sales numbers will be off 15 percent to 20 percent from a year ago, said both Healy and John Casesa of Merrill Lynch & Co. One reason is that August 2000 sales were inflated by big incentives on minivans.

Casesa said Ford Motor Co.’s sales will be down about 12 percent, and its market share will be off more than a full point to about 21 percent. General Motors’ sales for August will be down about 9 percent, and its market share will be down a half point to 27.7.

Casesa said the industry’s seasonally adjusted annual sales rate for August will dip to 16.1 million, down from 17.1 million a year ago.

Healy said, “This is not a collapse,” but he blamed diminished consumer confidence on “the cumulative effect of a lousy labor market and lousy stock market.”

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