Japan Crises, Gas Prices May Hurt April's Car Sales

Auto sales can say a lot about the state of the economy and where it is heading. U.S. carmakers announce their sales figures for March this week. The numbers are expected to continue a relatively strong trend. But auto industry insiders worry recent headlines will hurt Detroit's bottom line.

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Later this week, U.S. carmakers announce their sales figures for the month of March. Sales have been improving and this week's figures are expected to show that trend continuing. But some auto industry insiders still have concerns, as we learn from NPR's Sonari Glinton.

SONARI GLINTON: Recently, things have been relatively good in the car industry. Sales, up. Profits, up. Even perceptions of the U.S. auto industry, up. Then, news from the Middle East and Japan.

Mr. LONNIE MILLER (Auto Analyst, Polk Marketing): Major things like this could throw you a curve ball and slow down that sales rate.

GLINTON: Lonnie Miller is an auto analyst for Polk Marketing. He says automakers probably won't be hurt this month by supply disruptions from Japan, but next month, that's another story.

Mr. MILLER: I'm certain that people are going to really start reporting deficiencies in their sales by next month in April.

GLINTON: Chris Hopson is an analyst with IHS Automotive. He says this is all happening when stuff was starting to get good for Detroit.

Mr. CHRIS HOPSON (Analyst, IHS Automotive): The timing couldn't be worse for a double shocks for the industry at this point.

GLINTON: Hopson says we're still not sure exactly the extent to which the crisis will effect car production in Japan or the U.S.

Mr. HOPSON: If the worst case of all these double shocks, you know, and oil prices continue to go up, the crisis in Japan exacerbates and the unknowns are still unknown, the longer it will take to bring everything back online.

GLINTON: Hopson says he can't predict how long it'll take to get production back on line or how high gas prices go. But he can say they probably won't be good for auto industry profits.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

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