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Car sales expected to rocket this month

DETROIT -- Auto sales could hit a four-year high this month thanks to popular employee-pricing discounts, leading some dealers to believe that US automakers will extend the deals until Labor Day.

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., and DaimlerChrysler AG are allowing consumers to buy vehicles at the employee rate through Monday. None of the automakers would say this week whether they plan to continue the deals.

July sales could be the highest the country has seen since October 2001, when US automakers began offering zero-percent financing in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Merrill Lynch analyst John Casesa said this week in a note to investors. Even foreign automakers that don't have the discounts -- such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. -- are benefiting, he said. Automakers are scheduled to report July sales Aug. 2.

''Detroit's aggressive incentives and advertising appears to be creating showroom traffic for all brands," Casesa said.

GM was the first to offer the discount. After GM's sales jumped 41 percent in June, Ford and DaimlerChrysler followed with their own employee-discount plans. Several analysts predict GM's July sales will show an increase, but said Ford and DaimlerChrysler have stolen some of its thunder.

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