New-Car Sales Off 9.7% in Mid-February

Times Staff Writer

U.S. auto manufacturers reported Monday that new-car sales fell 9.7% in mid-February, but analysts said the decline does not signal the beginning of a slowdown in the auto market.

The six U.S.-based producers reported Monday that they sold 228,761 automobiles, or 25,418 per day, in the Feb. 11-20 period, down 9.7% on a daily selling rate basis from 225,260, or 28,158 per day, in the year-ago period.

Sales are calculated on a daily selling rate basis because there were nine selling days this year compared to only eight in the same period last year.

Ted Sullivan, an auto analyst at Data Resources Inc. in Lexington, Mass., warned that it is misleading to make too much of year-to-year comparisons because "demand (for new cars) is holding its own."

On a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis, sales in the latest period equaled 8.6 million, considered strong but still down sharply from last year's record mid-February rate of 9.6 million.

The annual rate is a reflection of the number of cars that would be sold if mid-February's pace were to continue for a full year.

Sullivan said his firm estimates that "400,000 people in the market right now would love to buy a Japanese car but can't because of the voluntary restraint agreement, so they turn to domestic cars, especially the Honda Accord," which is built in Ohio.

Slower sales of other small cars have led to aggressive new sales incentive campaigns by Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp., while American Motors Corp. on Monday announced a one-month extension of the company's 8.5% financing program on its passenger cars.

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