Clunkers Could Push Annualized Sales Rate To 16M

NEW YORK (AP) -- The popular Cash for Clunkers program could push August U.S. auto sales to an annualized rate of nearly 16 million, according to a Barclays Capital analyst.

Brian A. Johnson wrote Friday that the seasonally adjusted annual rate, or SAAR, may reach 15.8 million units in August. The clunkers program began in July with $1 billion, but was pumped up to $3 billion this month due to its success. It ended on Monday, nearly exhausting all of the available funding.

The selling rate hovered at 9.6 million units before the clunkers program began, but July sales were boosted to 11.2 million units, Johnson said.

But those gains are not expected to hold through September and the remainder of 2009.

"Now that Cash for Clunkers is over, we believe that the debate will center on the impact of a potential pull forward effect on auto sales in the next few months," Johnson wrote. "We expect sales for the remainder of the year to fall well below August results, but believe momentum from the program as well as the stabilization in the economy and improvement in consumer confidence could boost sales above the 9.5 million average seen in (the first half of) 2009."

Japanese automakers benefited the most from the program because of their wide rage of small and midsize vehicle offerings that qualified for the discounts, Johnson said.

While Ford Motor Co. is expected to post a year-over-year sales increase for August along with its foreign competitors, Johnson said General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group "will materially underperform" compared with the overall industry.

Shares of Ford rose 7 cents to $7.74 in afternoon trading while shares of Toyota Motor Corp. fell 70 cents to $86.08. Shares of Honda Motor Co. fell 22 cents to $31.86.

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