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Dealers try to hold on as Big 3 drama plays out
General Motors Corp. dealer Bill Shotwell tried something new last month at the North Carolina State Fair.

Just past the vendors selling deep-fried Snickers bars, wedged between the Kiddieland Fun Park and the livestock exhibit, he created a mini-showroom with a full line of Saturn models. The Raleigh dealer thought the novel approach might snag some customers.

About 5,000 people an hour filed past the Sky sports car. "The common phrase from people was 'That's a Saturn?' " Shotwell said. He may have changed some perceptions about Saturn, but it takes more than creative marketing to turn admirers into buyers these days. Shotwell hasn't been able to make his 100-vehicles-a-month sales target.

Like dealers around the country, he's caught in the weakest U.S. auto market since 1983. Detroit's Big Three have taken the brunt of the sales slide all year, and the situation worsened this month after GM and Ford Motor Co. reported dismal third-quarter earnings and GM said it could run out of money early next year, sparking fears of bankruptcy.

On Nov. 8, the day after GM and Ford reported their financial results, the number of shoppers who said they intended to buy a vehicle from one of the Big Three fell 11 percent from a week earlier, according to auto research firm Edmunds.com. The situation has improved only slightly since.

"Some bankruptcy penalty is already evident," said Sean McAlinden at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. More at Detroit News

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