The showroom misery after cash for clunkers was every bit as bad as dealers and automakers had feared. Maybe worse.
"It was as still as a graveyard," Wade Dinsmore, general manager of Anniston Dodge in Anniston, Ala., says of his showroom.
Sales didn't just slip back to pre-clunker levels, as many had hoped. September's sales rate "may be the worst of the year," says Adam Jonas, Morgan Stanley's lead auto analyst.
The federal incentive that ended Aug. 24 propelled the seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate for August to 13.7 million, says Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of Edmunds.com, up from 9.5 million in June, the first full month before the program. But the SAAR careened to 8.3 million from Aug. 25 to 31 before edging up to 8.9 million in the first five days of September, Anwyl says.
Analyst George Magliano of IHS Global Insight says: "I'd settle for anything in the 9 millions" for September.
The rest of the year "will be depressed even compared to the first half," adds Mike Jackson of CSM Worldwide.
George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, says it is too early to say what September's SAAR will be -- and it doesn't much matter. "What is important is not September," he says, "but the pace of the recovery and auto sales as we exit 2009 and enter 2010."
Some dealers see signs of life.
Tom White Jr., general manager of Suzuki of Wichita in Wichita, Kan., says sales are nowhere near the level of August -- the dealership's best month ever, with 207 new-vehicle sales.
"But it's just starting to get back to normal," he says.
White expects to sell 80 new units in September, on the low side of a normal range of 80 to 120.
Roger Mercer, a Nissan-Mazda dealer in Lufkin, Texas, expected a big falloff from a strong August, but says, "We're having a surprisingly good September."
Anwyl expects fourth-quarter sales to top the first half's 9.5 million SAAR. John McDonald, General Motors' top sales analyst, expects a fourth-quarter rate of 10 million to 10.5 million.