There will be no blossoming of the U.S. auto industry this spring.
The nation's largest automakers predicted lower production of vehicles during the next three months than during the same period last year, despite traditionally bright sales prospects during the spring.
"The total industry is not as strong as it was a year ago," said a Ford Motor Co. analyst who decined to be identified. The analyst said increasing penetration in the U.S. auto market by gas-efficient imports coupled with recent Carter administration credit-tightening policies have combined to produce a stalled auto industry during the second quarter.
"People want cars, but the credit restrictions make it more difficult to finance them," the Ford analyst said. "Production wouldn't be down as much without President Carter's credit tightening, but it would still be down."
Spokesmen for the automakers, who predicted production decreases of about 20 percent during the next three months, said they did not anticipate any significant additional layoffs during that time.
Any new layoffs would be temporary because of plants retooling to produce smaller cars, said a United Auto Workers spokesman in Detroit.As of March 7, some 163,000 auto workers had been laid off on a temporary basis, the spokesman said. The union had no predictions on layoffs, the spokesman said.
An economics consulting firm, however, said domestic auto production dropped off in mid-March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 8.2 million units. The end of many automakers' incentive programs and high interest rates have caused dealers to place fewer orders than usual, according to the report by Townsend, Greenspan and Co., Inc.
"Consequently, manufacturers, still wary of costly inventories, have scheduled 'permanent' production cuts that will raise the number of workers on indefinite layoff to more than 167,000 in early April, the first such increase in five weeks," the report said.
A General Motors spokesman, however, predicted that the first half of the year would be sluggish, but car sales will accelerate during the second half because of the introduction of new 1981 models. The spokesman added that layoffs at GM have peaked.
American Motors, unlike the rest of the industry, expects to increase production slightly during the next three months, its spokesman said. "Our subcompacts have been up in sales in the last couple of months," the spokesman said.
For example, the AMC Spirit subcompact had sales of 9,121 during January and February this year compared to sales of 5,209 during the same months last year, the spokesman said.
The company expects to produce 50,200 cars this quarter, compared to 49,551 actually produced during the same quarter last year, the spokesman said. 4
Chrysler several months ago went "out of the forecasting business," its spokesman said. "Our figures are on a week-to-week basis."
The financially troubled automaker is dropping production, however, recent figures show. For example, during the last week in March this year, 16,351 cars were produced, compared to 19,857 for the last week in March 1979. 1
During April Ford expects to produce 138,000 cars compared to 178,000 in April last year, the Ford analyst said.
General Motors this quarter expects production of 1,2 million cars compared to 1.5 million in the same quarter last year, a spokesman said.
In a related area, Chrysler yesterday said it will close another factory by the end of the year. The company said it would transfer work from that plant to other factories, and that the action was "in line with the company's continuing efforts to reduce costs and improve efficiency by combining related operations where possible."