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US:Sales to reveal if Ford can hold lead

Sales to reveal if Ford can hold lead

October will show if Chevy takes No. 1 spot from rival brand


Americans almost certainly bought more cars and trucks this October than they did last fall, despite a distracting presidential election, rising gas prices and lackluster job growth. But did they buy more Fords than Chevys?

When sales numbers are released Wednesday we'll know if this is the month General Motors Corp. overtakes Ford Motor Co. to claim the best-selling brand in the country.

There was a scant difference of 8,303 vehicles between the two brands during the first nine months of the year. Through September, Ford sold 2,105,429 cars and trucks, while GM's Chevrolet brand advanced quickly on its heels, selling 2,097,126 new vehicles.

Ford has had bragging rights as the No. 1 brand in the United States for 18 years. But Chevrolet would no doubt like that trophy to validate the success of its new "An American Revolution" advertising campaign.

"I'm expecting some surprises in incentives that will make that battle as tight as some of our political races," Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said of the competition between the two Detroit brands.

However, Ford brought two new products to the market this month -- the Five Hundred sedan and Freestyle crossover -- and the new vehicles might have arrived just in time to prevent a Chevrolet takeover.

Ford Division President Steve Lyons said sales of the new product have been strong, with about 2,700 Five Hundred and 1,300 Freestyle sales this month. He expects the company will hit its target of selling 30,000 new Five Hundreds and Freestyles by year's end. After that, the company is expecting to sell about 200,000 of the new vehicles a year.

"I'm pretty optimistic about what I'm seeing so far," Lyons said.

Overall, industry-wide sales of new cars and trucks surged in September to their second-strongest level this year. October results are expected to cool down to an annualized selling rate of 16.7 million new vehicles, according to analysts and economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

That is above the 16.1-million selling rate the industry posted a year ago, but less than the robust 17.5-million selling rate posted in September. The seasonally adjusted annual selling rate, also known as SAAR, indicates what sales would total for the whole year if they remained constant over 12 months, considering seasonal factors, and it can be an easy reference to compare how the market is performing month to month.

Tony Pordon, a spokesman for the Bloomfield Hills-based United Auto Group Inc., which has 145 auto franchises nationwide, said sales in areas hit by hurricanes in recent months picked up in October. And after wide month-to-month swings in auto sales over the summer, he added, "Sales have returned to what I would call a more normalized level."

Consumer confidence declined in October, and while the drop was small, the monthly Survey of Consumers by the University of Michigan revealed a disappointing mood, with buyers somewhat apprehensive about the future.

The index of consumer sentiment, released Friday, was 91.7 -- down from 94.2 in September. The index of leading economic indicators, meanwhile, was 83.8 in October, down from 88 in September.

"Few consumers expect significant declines in energy prices anytime soon, and few consumers anticipate the return of robust job growth during the year ahead," said Richard Curtin, the director of the U-M Survey of Consumers.

Despite that, the survey revealed that consumer attitudes about buying vehicles improved in October on the conviction that automakers would continue to offer deep discounts.

"The data indicate that unit sales of homes and vehicles will remain at very favorable levels in 2005 but fall slightly below the levels recording during 2004," Curtin concluded.

Taylor said NADA still expects 2004 to be a banner year for new vehicle sales, with about 16.8 million vehicles sold. That could tie this year with 2002 as the fourth-best auto sales year on record.

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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