AUTO PRESTIGE: Conspicuous Consumption Is Waning

THE first real casualty of the current recession may well be the middle-priced automobile. For years it not only provided transportation for the middle class but was a firm steppingstone on the stratified pyramid of personal material progress. From a Ford, Chevrolet or Plymouth, the buyer progressed to a Pontiac, Buick, De Soto or Oldsmobile, all the while hoping for, and perhaps eventually achieving, a Chrysler, Lincoln or Cadillac.

But the steppingstone is no longer attractive-or necessary-to most Americans. Sales of middle-priced cars have declined from 37% of the market in 1955 to 29%...

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