According to most forecasts issued late last year, U.S. light-vehicle sales this year would fall below 1997's 15.2 million.
In fact, sales likely will top 15.5 million units, second only to the record of 16 million set in 1986. After 11 months, sales are up 2.5 percent to 14,251,506 units.
The near-record performance comes despite strikes that virtually halted General Motors production for two months.
'None of us predicted the fourth quarter of 1998,' admitted Maryann Keller, auto industry analyst for ING*Baring Furman Selz LLC in New York. 'The month of October came along and blew all of our numbers out of the water.'
October sales were 9.8 percent ahead of the year-ago month.
Favorable factors in 1998 included:
Warm winter weather, flat auto prices and a stock market rebound late in the year.
So-called loyalty coupons, which boosted sales beyond expectations in the second quarter.
Interest rate cuts.
Here are some of last year's forecasts:
Mustafa Mohatarem, GM chief economist: 14.7 million-15.2 million
Martin Zimmerman, Ford Motor Co. vice president of governmental affairs: 14.7 million-15.2 million
Van Bussmann, DaimlerChrysler Corp. corporate economist:
14.5 million-15 million
Scott Merlis, Wasserstein & Perella Co: 14.9 million
Maryann Keller, ING Baring Furman Selz LLC: 15 million
Joe Phillippi, Lehman Brothers Inc.: 14.9 million.