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AUTO INDUSTRY EXPECTING HOT-SELLING YEAR

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The auto industry is bullish on 1995. The executives at Ford are predicting total sales of cars and light trucks of more than 16 million units.

New records for sales may well be set.Honda is predicting exports of more than 150,000 units. This will continue Honda as the No. 1 exporter of American-built automobiles. American-built Hondas also are the No. 1 selling import cars in Japan.

Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and Subaru also expect to build the majority of the cars they sell here in their U.S. factories.

BMW's new plant in South Carolina is just starting to crank out product, and by the end of 1995 the company expects the factory to be fully operational.

Auto executives also believe 1995 will see a continuation of the trend toward more truck sales. The primary reason is the popularity of minivans and sport utility vehicles. Both are considered trucks by their manufacturers.

It was only a few years ago that only a few companies built the four-wheel-drive vehicles that we now call the sport utility, and those early versions had little choice of equipment, color or design. But those days are long gone.

General Motors has just introduced its new Chevrolet Blazer and GMC Jimmy. Last year a newly restyled large Subaru went on sale, and soon there will be two in-between sport utility vehicles - the Chevrolet Tahoe and the GMC Yukon.

Each will have a variety of suspension options available.

Ford has made major changes in its popular sport utility vehicle, the Expolorer, and soon will introduce a new version of the Bronco.

Chrysler continues to offer a wide range of Jeep sport utility models.

Isuzu has been so successful building and selling sport utility vehicles that its passenger cars have taken a back seat. Isuzu shares an assembly plant with Subaru in Indiana and builds, in addition to its own vehicles, a sport utility vehicle for Honda under the Passport name.

Mercedes Benz has begun building a new plant in Alabama that will produce a new generation of sport utility vehicles for sale in the United States as well as for export.

BMW took what some feel is the easy way out by buying another company. Toyota, Nissan and Su-zu-ki are also major producers of sport vehicles.

Chrysler put minivans on the front burner with its Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, although it's been selling a small van for years.

GM offers its version of a front-wheel drive minivan (Chevrolet Lumina, Pontiac Transport and Oldsmobile Silhouette) and two versions of its four-wheel-drive vehicle (Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari).

Ford has three minivans, the front-wheel-drive Mercury Villager, front-wheel-drive Ford Windstar and rear-wheel-drive Ford Aerostar.

Honda is introducing its new minivan this month, the Odyssey.

Toyota's Previa and Mazda's PV have sold well, and Chrysler is reported to be putting the finishing touches on its next generation of minivans.

In 1995 you'll also see more cars driving with what appears to be their headlights on. These will be new GMC cars that will have daytime running lights as standard equipment. Cars built for sale in Canada have had daytime running lights for several years now. Safety experts believe they'll prevent accidents.

The running lights aren't as bright as nighttime headlights but make vehicles easier to see.

Now the biggest concern of the automobile manufacturers is how to keep up with demand without hiring too many new employees and building too many new factories.

The losses of the early '80s are still fresh in their minds. They hope to avoid future layoffs and plant closings.