Let's hear it for 'tweeners

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It's a 'tweener year. Let's celebrate it.

U.S. auto sales this year will fall between 2008's dreadful 13.2 million units and 2007's 16.2 million. Technically, we're still behind the 2008 sales pace, but we'll beat it like a drum by year end.

Yea. Nobody will miss 2008.

We won't get even close to 2007.

Hurrah. Thank goodness for that.

It is sometimes convenient to call 2007 "the last year of normal." Sure, it was the ninth straight year U.S. auto sales topped 16 million.

But it was completely abnormal. That near-decade plateau of high sales was the very symbol of the failed experiment of escalating incentives and overproduction to maximize capacity usage.

In human terms, 2007 was the final orgy of booze, bacon, fries and foie gras -- and 2008 was the heart attack that followed.

Call this the industry's third year post-rehab: eating more sensibly, exercising regularly and carrying a better attitude.

It may finish the year about 2 million units below the 2008 pace. But it's profitable.

And far more sustainable.

Like I said. Time to celebrate.

You can reach Jesse Snyder at jsnyder@crain.com.

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