US auto industry expected to report slow sales for October with Ford falling hardest


DETROIT — Auto analysts forecast another slow month for the industry in October, with Ford Motor Co. falling hardest as it cuts sales to rental-car fleets.

Erich Merkle, vice president of auto industry forecasting for consulting company IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids, said sales will probably be soft through the rest of the year because of the weak economy and anxious consumers. Automakers report October sales Thursday.

Merkle’s dim view was echoed throughout the industry. On Wednesday, AutoNation Inc., America’s largest automotive retailer, said its third-quarter profit tumbled 12 percent. AutoNation Chairman and Chief Executive Mike Jackson said he expected auto sales will be hurt by confidence-sapping weakness in the housing market well into 2008 despite tight management of expenses and inventory.

Merkle predicted an annualized sales rate of 16 million vehicles for October. The annualized rate shows what sales would be if they continued at the same pace for a year. The rate in September was 16.2 million, according to Autodata Corp. The rate peaked at 17.3 million in 2000.

The auto research site expects 2.4 percent sales growth for October versus a year ago. Edmunds said Japanese automakers and General Motors Corp. could buck the trend because of hot-selling new vehicles, including the redesigned Honda Accord and Cadillac CTS sedans.

An October decline would mark a year since Ford has seen a monthly sales increase, according to Ward’s AutoInfoBank.

Toyota Motor Corp. is on track to replace Ford as the No. 2 automaker after GM in the U.S. market, based on sales in the first nine months of this year. chief economist Jesse Toprak predicts Ford’s sales will drop 16 percent in October, while Toyota sales will rise.