BRAKING FOR A SLOWDOWN;CONSUMER CAR-BUYING INTENTIONS SHOW A DECLINE

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The automotive market will see a slowdown in the next six months and beyond, according to a recent study of 400 vehicle customers.

Only 5.7% of consumers expected they would purchase a vehicle within the next six months, compared with 9.5% 18 months earlier. Consumer resistance is strongest in the West, with only 2.6% expecting to buy, and weakest in the Southeast, 9.3% expecting to buy.

"What we are seeing is not so much that the automotive market may be softening, but that it is going into a more normal product and sales flow," said Bill Marefka, VP of Strong Automotive Merchandising, a Birmingham, Ala.-based advertising agency for automotive dealers, which conducted the study.

Expectations to buy within the next 12 months totaled 17.4%, down from 22.5% 18 months ago, and intent to buy within 24 months fell 6.4 percentage points, to 41.1%.

When consumers were asked what make of vehicle they were most likely to purchase, General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet brand topped the list at 17%, followed by Ford Motor Co.'s Ford brand with 16.7%. Surprisingly third in the ranks was the answer "don't know" with 9.7%.

Eighteen months ago, Ford was on top with 16.2%, Chevrolet was next with 13% and "don't know" was not even in the top 10, with a score below 2%.

This "don't know" segment brings a huge opportunity to automotive marketers in the upcoming months.

"Advertising and marketing becomes so important because so many people have not made up their minds," said Mr. Marefka.

The study was conducted during October via phone interviews of 400 auto consumers. The margin of error is 4.9 percentage points.

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Stuck in neutral

The percentage of consumers who say they don't know which brand of vehicle they'll purchase is growing.

1994 PREFERENCE *1995 PREFERENCE

Ford16.2% Chevrolet17.0%

Chevrolet13.0% Ford16.7%

Honda6.5% Don't know9.7%

Toyota6.5% Toyota8.2%

Buick6.3% Dodge8.0%

Don't know.2.0% Buick6.3%

Source: survey of 400 car buyers by Strong Automotive Merchandising, Birmingham, Ala.

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