Autos: End of a Cliffhanger

Because of its practice of bringing out each year's models in the preceding fall, the auto industry usually has clues long before January about how well or badly the new year will treat it. But last fall's automobile strikes distorted customary sales patterns, first cutting sales badly, then pushing them unrealistically high in December, when over time production helped fill a huge order backlog. To Detroit, January became the vital, cliffhanging month to watch.

Last week the January results came in. Although still somewhat inflated by backlog orders, auto sales were so...

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