August car daze

AUGUST is here. One doesn't need to look at the calendar to know it. Turning to car advertisement pages in many a daily newspaper makes it clear: Rebates, low interest rates, and hot bargains are again the order of the month. That's good news for consumers but more of a mixed blessing for Detroit, since - you guessed it - overseas manufacturers are matching Detroit's incentives. The reason for the auto industry's sudden generosity is not hard to understand. September and October are just ahead. That's when dealers' showrooms switch from current models to the 1988 models coming off assembly lines. Unfortunately, dealers have large inventories of '87 cars.

Incentives are welcome. One can't help wondering, though, if manufacturers couldn't find ways of factoring the special incentives into the price structure for the year as a whole, to help offset the increasingly high prices.

Manufacturers offering incentives deserve plaudits. Providing 1.9 percent financing on some models, as General Motors and Ford are now proposing, among other measures, is a bargain.

The US auto industry continues to post progress in many ways. GM, for all its challenges, still offers a large variety of products. Ford has become highly innovative and profitable. Chrysler has proved itself a creative marketing force. And Chrysler's recent absorption of troubled American Motors makes sense. GM could not have acquired AMC without antitrust complaints. Ditto Ford. Chrysler could. Besides, adding the Jeep to Chrysler's minivan series was logical.

America's love affair with the automobile continues, despite crowded freeways and enormous costs. Low-cost financing and big rebates don't dim the magic.

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