AKRON-Sporadic and unpredictable might best describe 2001 for the automotive industry.
In comparison to the record build levels of 2000-and 2000's record sales of 17.4 million units-vehicle production volumes continued to cycle low throughout the past year. But they rose enough after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to put 2001 on track to be the second-best selling year in U.S. vehicle history.
After numerous plant and line stoppages designed to bring vehicle inventories more in line with demand, the industry at the end of the year ironically found itself in the position of having to refurbish stock cleaned out by the auto makers' ``Keep America Rolling'' sales incentives.
First-quarter sales were unexpectedly high as consumer spending balanced with decreasing Gross Domestic Product levels. In early 2001, car makers predicted a ``soft landing'' from the sharp declines the industry saw during the fall of 2000.
But the short downturn expected did not materialize, as months passed with auto makers projecting upward sales trends but never fully realizing them until they introduced 0-percent financing last fall to help boost the U.S. economy. Suppliers had a tough time adjusting their plant schedules throughout the year as car makers would forecast increased volumes, then generally decrease orders.
DaimlerChrysler A.G. suppliers started the year out with larger than expected mandates for immediate 5-percent price cuts. Those without clout granted them, others negotiated alternative prices and still others-the giants of the automotive supplier community-reportedly refused the car maker's demands, jeopardizing future business with the company.
In November, Salomon Smith Barney Inc. raised its production estimates for General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. on the assumption of higher production levels for 2002's first quarter. Auto makers will need to rebuild inventories depleted by the 0-percent financing, the firm believed.
Consumer research firm J.D. Power & Associates said U.S. passenger vehicle sales were on course at the end of the year to challenge historic sales levels. Sales of light vehicles through October reflected a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 17.1 million units, the firm said.
With November sales tracking at an annualized pace of about 18 million units, December sales had to exceed only an annualized rate of 13.3 million units to surpass 1999 levels and make 2001 the second-best selling year in vehicle history behind 2000's sales.