ctober was a great month -- if you sell cars. General Motors' new car and truck sales rose a record 31% in October over the same month a year ago. Sales of those big, expensive SUVs were up 63%. It was GM's best month in five years.


At Ford, the increase was 36%, as October vehicle sales bested a monthly sales record that had stood for 24 years. At Ford's Mercury division, sales were up 60%. And we're not talking compacts here, either. Sales of the big Mercury Grand Marquis doubled.

Heavily promoted 0% financing had a lot to do with all of this, clearly. Even so, the news on the financial pages suggests that, even with unemployment reaching a new five-year high, American households still have money to spend.

Unfortunately for the travel industry, they apparently feel better about spending it on cars than on cruises and tours. Record car sales also mean that a record number of American families, maybe a million households, took on a new car loan in October. Even with generous financing terms, does this mean there will be less disposable income available for travel?

Is the good news in Detroit bad news for travel? We are of two minds: long-term and short-term. Taking the long view, there's no evidence that people buy cars instead of travel; only that they are buying one and not the other. Even with a new car in the garage, people will travel. They have before, and they will again. In the long run, travel will get its share.

On the other hand, people may be less likely to spring for a big vacation in the immediate future if they've just taken on a new financial burden. Maybe agents could hedge their bets by grabbing some brochures and heading over to the local car dealership, where the salesmen surely have money to spend on vacations -- if they're not too busy.

Just don't let them sell you anything.

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