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Full-size Cars Come Out Just As Gulf Crisis Boosts Oil Worries

January 4, 1991

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Who knew?

U.S. automakers built fleets of full-size cars and are about to introduce them. Trouble is, the big cars are coming out as war looms in the Middle East, driving up gasoline prices, and the economy stalls into recession.

It’s a case of bad timing for automakers, but the only gear they can use is forward.

″It’s unfortunate that the industry’s product cycle led to the introduction of full-size cars just as the recession and the Persian Gulf crisis hit,″ Dean Witter Reynolds auto analyst Ronald Glantz in San Francisco said Thursday.

″But the fact of the matter is, there’s no point in delaying full-size cars once you have them ready for production,″ Glantz said.

The recession seems likely to wreck this year’s sales. Mid-December figures released Wednesday showed car and light truck sales by major U.S. manufacturers fell 19 percent from the same period in 1989.

Yearly sales figures are due Friday. They’re expected to drop by 4 percent to 14.2 million. Many analysts and auto industry executives are forecasting another 5 percent decline this year to 13.5 million vehicles.

Among the new full-size cars on display Thursday at a preview of the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, which opens Saturday and ends Jan. 13, were Ford’s Crown Victoria and Mercury’s Grand Marquis.

Each improved gas mileage by 1.5 miles per gallon over last year’s models, from 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. That should help sales, Glantz said.

Given the economic situation and steep gas prices, Buick’s massive Roadmaster seems especially ill-timed.

The luxury V-8 Roadmaster, a re-introduction of a name made famous from the 1930s through 1950s on Buick’s ″porthole″-dotted sedan, comes out this winter as an eight-passenger wagon, followed by a six-passenger sedan in the spring. It’s priced in the mid-$20,000 range, between Buick’s Le Sabre and Park Avenue.

It’s big - and powerful. The Park Avenue can haul a trailer weighing up to 3,000 pounds. The Roadmaster sedan, with a 5.7-liter engine, pulls 5,000 pounds.

″With the rising gas prices and the situation in the Persian Gulf, it’s hard to say what will happen,″ said Bob Coletta, Buick’s assistant general sales and service manager.

At 16 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, the Roadmaster compares favorably with minivans that can carry as many passengers, Coletta said.

″They’re definitely large cars, but they’re still fuel-efficient cars,″ Coletta said.

Buick increased its market share from 5.5 percent to 5.8 percent in 1990, with a realistic goal of 8 percent by the middle of the decade, by listening to buyers’ demands for ″premium American motor cars″ and ″muscular grace,″ he said.

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