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Auto Execs Expect Sales to Stay in a Rut

August sales, lackluster to say the least, confirm that it is going to take more than the "usual" incentives in order to convince more Americans to stroll into a showroom and buy a new car or truck.

Look at the August numbers:

  • GM Overall Down 24.9%
  • GM Core brands Down 10.6%
  • Ford: Down 10.7%
  • Chrysler: Up 11.1%

Overall, August sales are expected to come in at a pace of 11.5 to 11.7 million. Given August is a traditionally a high volume sales month, this is further proof the auto industry is stuck in neutral. GM says retail sales last month dropped 28.9%. Sure, that's a skewed number because the comparison is with August of last year when Cash for Clunkersspurred a surge in sales.

Car dealership
Car dealership

Still, you get the point: people aren't buying right now.

As troubling as it is for those who build and sell cars and trucks, they have little optimism that it will change anytime soon.

In fact, when I talk with industry veterans, they all say the same thing, "I don't see it improving anytime soon."

Until unemployment drops a significant percentage, or the housing market improves, or consumer confidence comes back, it will be slow in showrooms.

That's not what dealers want to hear, but it is reality.

Yes, more dealers are boosting their ad spending and/or incentives to draw in more customers. Understandable steps that could help a bit, but not enough for auto makers and auto dealers breath easier and say, "Here's the recovery we've been waiting and hoping for."

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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