Zero-percent financing offered by The Big Three in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack has fueled a significant upswing in the U.S. light-vehicle market, as Ward's data shows sales have gone through the roof during the first two weeks of October. The question now is how long it can last.

Based on expected sales and estimated production and import shipments for the U.S. market, inventory will end October at 3.244 million units, a 4.1% increase from the prior month and 5.6% below year-ago. Domestic light vehicle output will end the month at 2.770 million units, 4.9% above the prior month, and 7.7% below like-2000.

If sales continue at this rate, Ward's was forecasting a 17.95 million seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) with the possibility of a 19-million or 20-million rate in October. November sales are expected to be at a tamer 16 million rate with December falling to a 15-million to 15.5-million level. If those expectations come true, light-vehicle sales will end the year at a more modest 16.6 million.