Autos: High hopes – and worries
Despite the Ford strike, you find a mood of optimism in Detroit as the 1968 model year gets under way. Not even a shortage of new cars and a rise in prices are upsetting auto makers’ confidence that sales will go up next year.
The auto industry enters the new model year with problems of a strike, shortages of cars, rising costs and prices, and yet, the nation’s car makers are predicting that sales of 1968 autos now coming to market will run well ahead of the 1967s.
New-car sales of all makes, including imports, are estimated at 8.7 million by Chrysler, and at 9.2 million by Ford. General Motors thinks 9 million new autos will be sold. All this compares with sales of 8.5 million in the 1967 model year.
It is now officially confirmed that the 1968s will carry higher prices. Chrysler, first to put its new models on sale on September 14, announced increases ranging from $73 on some models to $256 on others. That averages out to $133 per car, or about 4.6 percent above suggested list prices on the 1967s. Price boost in roughly the same range were in store for the opening of sales in other makes – GM on September 21, Ford the next day, and American Motors on September 26.
The higher prices, however, are expected by auto makers to put little if any dent in consumer demand for new cars. In fact, a big question in Detroit now is: Will there be enough cars to go around, at least in the early part of the model year?
A strike by the United Auto Workers Union idled Ford production lines on September 7. Settlement prospects are dim. Contracts still have to be negotiated at GM, Chrysler and AMC. Further disruption of output at one or more of these companies appears inevitable, according to industry observers.
Production cutbacks come at a time when stocks of new cars in dealers’ showrooms are already at their lowest level since late 1964. Dealers, in mid-September, had fewer than 1 million cars on hand, most of them 1967 models.
Ford’s 6,100 dealers will be down to an average of fewer than 10 new 1968s each on introduction day, according to M.S. McLaughlin, Ford Division general manager. He said:
“We’ll have enough to show and to demonstrate. We’ll take orders and fill them just as soon as possible.”
Ford’s two divisions – Ford and Lincoln-Mercury – built about 87,000 of the 1968 models before the strike began. All but 20,000 were Ford Division products – Falcon, Mustang, Fairlane, Ford, and Thunderbird – and officials say that 10 percent of these have been earmarked for rental-car fleets.
Though shortages pinch tightest at Ford, industry officials say any of the other car makers would find themselves plagued by supply scarcities if production were disrupted by labor disputes.