- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001

Car dealers in the area say sales shot up in the past week as customers took advantage of the zero percent financing being offered by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler on many of their vehicles.

"To be totally up front with you, we've done fantastic," says Alex Perdikis, general manager of Koons Chevrolet Chrysler Plymouth in Vienna. "It's generated so much business."

Mr. Perdikis estimates sales are up 30 to 35 percent since August, and about the same rate compared to September of last year. General Motors announced on Sept. 19 zero percent financing for 36 months on all their 2001 and 2002 vehicles, with decreased financing for 48 and 60 months.

Ford Motor Co. responded by offering zero percent financing for 36 months on all cars except the 2002 Thunderbird. Chrysler got on board by offering zero percent financing for all 2002 models except the PT Cruiser, Jeep Liberty and some minivans.

Many car dealerships say that overall sales for the year were slow going into September, but that business was strong in the few weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The incentives handed out by the manufacturers have helped to regain business lost in the days following the attacks, dealers say.

"We actually saw a boost in sales the Friday before the incentives were announced," says Tim Lawrenson, general manager of Century Ford in Rockville. "You have a lot of individuals trying to move on with life."

Mr. Lawrenson says September will be the best month of the year for Century Ford. He expects a final tally of 170 cars sold during the month, compared to 113 in August and 97 in July.

Dealerships said sales of higher-priced vehicles, like the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, and Ford Excursion and Mustang have been brisk because customers enjoy the feeling of saving as much as $8,000. Mr. Perdikis says his dealership sold more Corvettes in September than in any prior month in its history.

"We're getting a huge increase in sales of our high-end products," he says.

Dealerships say many buyers are people who weren't even in the market for a new vehicle, but realize that zero percent financing is a once-in-a-blue-moon deal.

"In all seriousness I've never seen incentives like this in my life. Never ever," Mr. Lawrenson says. Sales of Chrysler products have yet to see as big a jump as General Motors and Ford, mainly because the company was the last of the Big Three to announce incentives.

Strong sales resulting from manufacturer incentives belie the fact that the automotive industry, like the rest of the economy, has struggled all year. The Big Three are on track to record their worst U.S. sales figures since 1992, and consumer confidence is at a five-year low.

DaimlerChrysler abandoned its 2001 earnings forecast on Friday, citing a decline in auto sales due to the Sept. 11 attacks. All automakers have cut production in the past three weeks. Ford reduced third-quarter production by 110,000 to 120,000 models this month, or as much as 13 percent, because of parts shortages caused by shipping delays from heightened security at the U.S.-Canada border. U.S. automakers also shut plants in January and February because of reduced demand as the economy slowed.

Dealers say they'll never regain the sales lost following the terrorist attacks, but that for now, showrooms are filled with people and vehicles are flying off the lots.

"It's not 'gloom and doom' anymore," says Waquar Malik, sales manager for Peacock Buick in Vienna. "It's a good trend and it's looking very positive."

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