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Chicago Fed Letter, No. 145a, September 1999
Sixth Annual Auto Outlook Symposium (Special Issue)

Light vehicle sales for 1994–97 averaged 14.9 million units, with unprecedented stability. Sales for 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997 were 15.0 million, 14.7 million, 15.0 million and 15.0 million units, respectively. Sales during 1998 were not quite as stable. In the first quarter, sales were in line with the previous year at 15.1 million units and then jumped to 16.1 million units in the second quarter. This surge was caused by very aggressive discounting referred to as the “coupon war” in thevehicle industry as well as a “rush” to get a General Motors (GM) product before stocks ran out due to the strikes that began to affect GM in early June. Light vehicle sales fell to 14.6 million units in the third quarter as the GM strikes shut down production for the world’s largest vehicle maker. The strikes were settled at the end of July and once GM began to replenish inventories, sales in the fourth quarter rocketed to 16.3 million units, the strongest quarterly sales pace since 1986. After such a strong quarter, it was expected that sales would slow in the first quarter of this year. Sales did slow, but by just 0.1 million units. It was with such strength in the light vehicle industry that on May 28, 1999, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago held its sixth annual Auto Outlook Symposium. This Chicago Fed Letter summarizes the consensus outlook from the symposium, as well as the presentations from vehicle producers, dealers and vehicle research organizations.

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