- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2009

ASSOCIATED PRESS

An executive with General Motors said Friday the company sees U.S. auto sales growing by 2 million next year.

General Motors Co. Vice President Brent Dewar said GM is projecting U.S. sales of 10.5 million vehicles for this year and 12.5 million next year as consumer confidence improves.

August sales for the Chevrolet brand were strong but there will be a payback in September, he said. The government’s “cash-for-clunkers” program definitely pulled sales forward from later in the year, he said.

Separately, a top Ford executive expects industrywide U.S. auto sales to rise for the first time in more than two years this month, thanks largely to the clunkers program.

Sales may have risen as high as 13 million autos on an annualized basis this month, said Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas.

Retail sales at Ford Motor Co. this month have already surpassed last year’s levels with a weekend still to go, he said. Ford’s sales last month rose 2.4 percent.

“Overall, we thought it was a very, very successful program in jump-starting sales,” Mr. Fields said of the “clunkers” program, which enticed drivers to trade in gas guzzlers by offering big rebates on new, more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.

Automakers are scheduled to report monthly sales on Tuesday. Many analysts are forecasting a year-over-year increase for an industry that has taken a beating during the recession, although year-ago levels were already depressed.

“Cash for clunkers” offered a strong jolt to sales. The program, which formally ended Monday, spurred 690,114 new sales at a taxpayer cost of $2.88 billion, according to the Department of Transportation.

Ford was one of the top gainers from the program. The Ford Focus compact car and Escape crossover were among the top sellers, though Japanese automakers sold more vehicles than U.S. companies.

Mr. Fields estimated about 30 to 40 percent of “clunkers” sales were “truly incremental,” meaning that they came from consumers who had no plans previously to buy a car. The rest, he said, came from people who were going to buy a car later on.

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