Or evidence of a remarkable economic and cultural shift?
From today's New York Times:
Auto Sales Fall Sharply in September
By NICK BUNKLEY Published: October 1, 2008
DETROIT — September was another difficult month for carmakers.
Toyota, the Ford Motor Company and Chrysler each said Wednesday that their sales in the United States fell more than 30 percent in September, as volatility in the financial markets compounded what already had been a miserable year for the auto industry.
But sales were better than expected at General Motors, which reported a 16 percent decline and estimated that its market share rose to the highest level in more than three years.
“We are looking at a very fragile economy,” Emily Kolinski-Morris, Ford’s chief economist, said on a conference call with analysts and reporters. “I don’t think anyone can say where the bottom might be.”
Sales were off 34 percent at Ford, 33 percent at Chrysler and 32 percent at Toyota. Honda, which had fared much better than its rivals in the first half of the year, reported a 24 percent decline.
Car dealers have been struggling to draw customers into their showrooms. Through August, vehicle sales nationwide were down 11.2 percent.
The three Detroit automakers have suffered most as high gasoline prices decimated demand for pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. Sales of light truck are down more than 20 percent so far this year at G.M., Ford and Chrysler.
The companies have increased discounts on slow-selling models, with limited success. G.M. offered all shoppers an “employee pricing” discount on most models throughout September.
“In a very difficult and challenging industry, our relative performance was outstanding,” G.M.’s chief sales analyst, Michael C. DiGiovanni, said. Michael Futrell, the general manager of the Champion Chevrolet dealership in Tallahassee, Fla., said he was able to offer deals like a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck at $6,500 below cost, yet few people were interested.
He said car shoppers were typically hesitant in the months before a presidential election, but the weak economy had made this fall much worse.
“People want to buy but they just don’t want to pull the trigger until they know who’s going to be in office and what this economy’s going to do,” Mr. Futrell said. “What the consumer doesn’t understand is that there’s probably not a better time to buy a car. The deals are out there, but I think everybody’s so skeptical that they’re trying to hold off.”
He said the first half of September was actually better than expected but that sales dried up after the extent of Wall Street’s troubles became apparent.
“It was like somebody just turned the spigot off,” he said.