Sales of new cars rose a strong 31.7% in the mid-January sales period, the companies reported Monday, giving auto makers hope that 1988 may be stronger than expected.
The U.S. auto industry reported sales of 186,385 cars in the Jan. 11-20 period, compared to 125,774 in the same period last year. Auto sales had slumped in early 1987 as many consumers rushed to buy their big ticket items, including automobiles, before the deduction for sales tax was eliminated at the end of 1986.
Although the percentage increase in the latest period was inflated by that factor, auto industry analysts were pleased with the figures and said they were cautiously optimistic that the domestic auto industry will remain healthy in the coming year.
"Sales were a little bit better than I expected," said David Healy, an auto analyst with Drexel Burnham Lambert in New York. "I think it's a good indication that the stock market crash . . . (is) not causing a recession in car sales, at least not yet."
"(Auto sales are) very strong and give me some confidence in the new car market," said Christopher Cedergren, an auto industry analyst with J. D. Power & Associates, based in Westlake Village.
Cedergren said many analysts were wary after the early January sales figures suggested some sluggishness in the market. But analysts said Monday that those figures may have been hurt by a bad snowstorm in parts of the country. "In light of this recent (sales period) . . . the first 10 days of January were just a minor blip," Cedergren said.
Among the Big Three auto manufacturers, General Motors' sales increased 19.2%; Ford's sales rose 59.9%, and Chrysler's sales increased 27.9%.
Most of the foreign transplants--foreign-based auto manufacturers that produce cars domestically--reported respectable gains in the 10-day sales period. Honda's sales increased 42.6%; Volkswagen's sales rose 16.8%, and Toyota's sales increased 56.9%.
Only Nissan's sales dropped from a year ago, down 25%.
Mazda sold 362 domestically built cars in the 10-day period. There are no comparison figures for Mazda because the company started its domestic auto production less than a year ago.
AUTO SALES Percentage changes in auto sales for the second 10 days of January are based on daily rates rather than total sales volume. There were nine selling days in the current period and eight in the year-ago period.
Jan. 11-20 Jan. 11-20 % 10-Day 1988 1987 change GM 90,590 67,549 +19.2 Ford 60,864 33,838 +59.9 Chrysler 24,628 17,116 +27.9 Honda U.S. 6,446 4,018 +42.6 VW U.S.* 1,106 842 +16.8 Nissan U.S. 1,711 2,027 -25.0 Toyota U.S. 678 384 +56.9 Mazda U.S. 362 -- -- TOTAL 186,385 125,774 +31.7