Sales at Ed Bozarth Chevrolet, 60 miles from Ft. Riley in Topeka, Kan., have been soft lately.
"Last Tuesday night, a big battalion shipped out, and those soldiers have known they were going for a month," Bozarth says. "They're not going to buy cars knowing they're going to be shipping out."
Bozarth is not alone. Sales are slumping at dealerships near military bases across the United States as their customers worry about more important matters.
"We've felt an impact in the last 60 days," says Richard Stevens, president of Freeway Ford, near Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga. "A lot of the soldiers were shipped out, and the ones that weren't were put on alert that they could be soon. They were told not to make any major purchases."
Military personnel account for about 25 percent of Freeway Ford's monthly sales of about 100 to 140 units. In the last two months, sales to service people have dropped to about 5 percent of his total, Stevens says.
The war also is slowing showroom traffic for another dealer near Ft. Benning, Willy Herold Jr. at Willy Herold Subaru. "Typically we sell about seven vehicles a month to military (personnel). Last month we sold one, and we haven't sold any so far this month."
Some Army bases, such as Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., are filling with reservists as quickly as they are losing regular-army soldiers. This has helped the economy of nearby towns as well as sales at dealerships.
Tom Costello, general manager of Rick Hendrick Toyota in Fayetteville said: "Last year was our best year, and the first two months of this year have been better than last." Ft. Bragg is nearly filled - at 94 percent - with reservists.
The reservists "aren't necessarily buying cars but they are spending money in town. They're keeping the cash flow in town." Hendrick Toyota sells about 140 new and 100 used vehicles per month.
While auto sales are down for dealer Bozarth in Topeka, service business is up. "People don't want any problems with their cars during this period," he says. "Everyone remembers Sept. 11 too well."
He is feeling a double whammy from the war because he also owns an Oldsmobile store in Colorado Springs, Colo., near Ft. Carson.
Looking beyond the war, Bozarth is optimistic. In fact, he has ordered 250 more Chevrolets than he did last year at this time, hoping the war will be over soon.