UPDATE 1-INTERVIEW-AutoNation cuts new vehicle orders again


By Poornima Gupta

DETROIT, Jan 29 (Reuters) - AutoNation Inc has cut orders for new vehicles from automakers by 60 percent in February as it expects U.S. auto sales to hover around 10 million units annually until credit improves, Chief Executive Mike Jackson said on Thursday.

The reduction in orders follows the decision by the largest car dealership group to scale back new vehicle purchases by 60 percent in January.

"Our reduction in orders are across the board," Jackson told Reuters in an interview. He said everybody has been impacted by tight credit, "from premium luxury to imports to the domestics."

AutoNation is seeing inventories of unsold vehicles pile up for all automakers, including the Japanese companies, he said.

Jackson said an improvement in credit availability is a prerequisite for any uptick in U.S. auto sales.

U.S. auto sales fell 18 percent to about 13.2 million vehicles in 2008 from the prior year, battered by the downturn in the economy and most automakers expect sales to decline from there in 2009. The rate has hovered just above 10 million on an annualized basis in the last couple of months.

"We are very hopeful that when the Federal Reserve begins to accept securitized auto loans in February, we will gradually see an improvement in credit availability for our customers," he said.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based AutoNation posted a 30 percent increase in fourth-quarter profit on cost cuts and a tax gain even as the demand in the auto market collapsed on tight credit and the turmoil in financial markets.

Jackson said the quarter was an extremely tough one, given the business challenges.

"I have never gone through anything like it," he said. "Broken consumer confidence, dramatically restricted credit, ... industry's retail sales collapse by 50 percent and we are still solidly in the black."

(Reporting by Poornima Gupta, editing by Dave Zimmerman)



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