U.S. auto sales downturn near bottom: Dura CEO

DETROIT Wed Sep 17, 2008 2:24pm EDT

Dura Automotive Systems Inc President and CEO Tim Leuliette attends the Reuters Autos Summt in Detroit, Michigan September 17, 2008. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Dura Automotive Systems Inc President and CEO Tim Leuliette attends the Reuters Autos Summt in Detroit, Michigan September 17, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook

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Wed, Sep 17 2008

DETROIT (Reuters) - The U.S. auto sales downturn may be near a bottom, but the uncertainty of the market given credit conditions and fuel prices make it hard to predict what sales will be like in 2009, the top executive for auto parts maker Dura Automotive Systems Inc said on Wednesday.

"It's hard to believe that we can get a lot lower than we are today," CEO Tim Leuliette told the Reuters Autos Summit in Detroit. "Then again, it was hard to believe that AIG could go bankrupt. It was hard to believe Lehman could go bankrupt."

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc LEH.N filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday, and a federal takeover has been engineered for insurance giant American International Group (AIG.N), adding to uncertainty about credit markets.

U.S. auto sales have declined from more than 17 million vehicles three years ago to a projected 14 million rate in 2008 under tight credit markets and rising fuel prices.

Production cuts by automakers in the second half of 2008 will also result in follow-through pressure on suppliers in the first half of 2009, Leuliette said.

Leuliette also said he expected tremendous pent-up demand for vehicles to result in some very strong U.S. auto sales within three to five years, based on his experience with past business cycles.

(For summit blog: summitnotebook.reuters.com/) (Reporting by David Bailey)

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