U.S. new-vehicle sales will be negatively impacted in September because of last week’s national tragedy. It’s difficult to determine how great the loss will be, but Ward’s estimates the seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) will be 500,000 units lower because of fallout from last week’s catastrophe.

Therefore, Ward’s is forecasting September light vehicle sales to post a SAAR of 15.3 million, based on volume of 1,243,500 units. That’s well below the prior month’s 16.3 million and year-ago’s 18.0 million. The daily selling rate over this month’s 24 selling days is 51,813, 12.2% below like-2000’s 58,978 - established with 25 selling days.

As the public continues focusing its attention on last week’s events, dealer traffic is certain to decline. A weekly dealer survey by International Strategy and Investment indicates dealer traffic was down dramatically last week. And dealers expect quiet showrooms for several more days, some saying they anticipated to sell only replacements for inoperable vehicles.

Also, production and delivery slowdowns across the country (see story above) could reduce availability of some vehicles already low in stock - despite the usual month-end rush. However, the September production schedule was relatively strong and lost production could have more impact on October sales, when several ’02 models officially debut.

Meanwhile, U.S. dealers headed into the month with 3.08 million units of inventory, 9.0% below year-ago. Aug. 31 days’ supply was 57, compared to 56 the prior month and 59 in like-2000. Inventory of domestically made light vehicles stood at 2.62 million units, 10.8% below year-ago, and equivalent to a 61 days’ supply vs. like-2000’s 62.

Including adjustments for production losses through the end of last week, Ward’s forecasts Sept. 30 inventory at 3.26 million units, 5.2% below year-ago. Days’ supply will rise to 63, a six-day increase from August, when an increase of one or two days is normal. However, the inventory forecast does not take into account the slowdowns in production and import shipments that could continue from last week. The final inventory tally is likely to come in below forecast unless effects of the crisis are greater than Ward’s anticipates.