General Motors Corp. today reported third-quarter profits of $517 million on record sales of $22.5 billion -- the short-term spoils of an interest-rate war that nearly wiped out supplies of 1985-model domestic cars.
Domestic auto analysts said that Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. also will report increased third-quarter earnings stemming from the finance-rate campaigns.
But the analysts still held to their predictions that sales of 1986-model cars, and the profits that go along with them, could be hurt because so many customers were induced to buy 1985 cars.
GM's latest quarterly earnings were 23.9 percent higher than the $417 million the company received in the year-ago period. Earnings per share for the quarter were $1.46, compared with $1.31 per share in 1984.
But that success was greeted with muted applause here today, largely because the company paid dearly to end the quarter in the black.
The incentive programs were instituted only to relieve a product backlog caused by a lengthy Teamsters union car haulers' strike, GM officials said.
GM's 7.7-percent financing program, which began in mid-August and ended Oct. 2, forced all of its domestic competitors to initiate comparable efforts. The programs got rid of the backlogs, but the lower rates also cut sharply into profits that could have been bigger under so-called normal selling conditions.
Before the Teamsters strike last summer, domestic auto makers had been churning out record numbers of cars to take advantage of a still-booming U.S. auto market. But the strike held up delivery of those 1985 cars, thereby threatening the orderly introduction of 1986 models.
Thus, "the favorable impact normally associated with higher production levels was largely offset by costs related to the incentive campaign," GM officials said.
GM and Ford have started another round of incentives -- 8.8 percent financing programs -- to clear out the few remaining 1985 models and to maintain some of the sales momentum from the earlier interest rate campaign.
But Ted Sullivan, an analyst with Data Resources Inc. in Lexington, Mass., said that the new incentive will draw little consumer response.
The reason? Most of the cars that are left are models that many consumers do not want, Sullivan said. "There's basically nothing left from 1985," he said. However, Sullivan said that does not mean that the nation's Big Three car companies will suffer losses in the fourth quarter, or in the early going next year.
Strong sales of full-sized models, the most profitable cars, will continue throughout the year. Also Japan-made cars imported by U.S. auto companies should help to keep profits rolling in, Sullivan said.
But he and other anaylysts said today that more incentive programs may be needed to keep consumers buying in 1986. If that is the case, the result could be that profits "will continue to be good," but probably smaller, Sullivan said.