DETROIT - Detroit's Big Three, enjoying the best automotive sales boom since the mid-1980s, are coping with the kind of problems many industries envy: getting enough parts in hand, cars built and new models launched before the buying pace tails off. Short-term interest rates, which inched up steadily in 1994, are about the only potential pitfall ahead. A surprisingly strong economy and continued good news on the employment front offer reassuring evidence that the auto sales surge could continue.
Sales of cars and light trucks reached 15.1 million units in 1994, up from 13.9 million a year earlier. The industry's best year was in 1986, when it sold 16.1 million cars and light trucks.
In early December, Chrysler Corp. increased its 1995 sales forecast for cars and light trucks to 16.2 million. W.V. Bussmann, the automaker's chief economist, also predicts that 1996 will be even better, with U.S. sales reaching the high 16 million range.
Lexington, Mass.-based DRI/McGraw Hill, considerably less bullish, is calling for U.S. vehicle sales of 15.2 million next year.
``We believe the market is going to peak in the first half of the year and come down after that,'' said analyst Kurt Brown.