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Credit ratings may suffer

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DETROIT — Deteriorating consumer confidence in the wake of last week's terror attacks could result in lower credit ratings for General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG, according to a report by Standard & Poor's.

The firm Tuesday placed DaimlerChrysler and its related companies on CreditWatch with negative implications, which means the automaker's credit rating could be lowered in the near future.

"The events of Sept. 11, 2001, increase the likelihood that the ratings on all three companies will be lowered," the report said. "Standard & Poor's believes that consumer confidence in the U.S. has deteriorated and that this will accelerate the trend of falling auto sales, evident in recent months."

Both Ford and GM were given CreditWatch classification Aug. 17, which remains in effect.

Michael Aberlich, a DaimlerChrysler spokesman, said the company's financial turnaround is headed in the right direction, "but we recognize the world has changed and will act accordingly."

In February, DaimlerChrysler chief executive Juergen Schrempp launched a $3.9 billion, three-year rescue plan aimed at returning Chrysler to profitability by 2003.

Standard & Poor's said it expects auto sales to be "exceptionally weak for the next two quarters at least and the likelihood of any improvement beyond that time is highly uncertain."

So far this year, sales of GM vehicles are down 7 percent, Ford sales are off 12 percent and DaimlerChrysler sales are down 11 percent compared with the first eight months of 2000, which was a record year for the industry.

Including foreign manufacturers, vehicle sales are down 5 percent from last year.