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    Ford Follows Tesla in Cutting Electric Vehicle Prices

    The automaker reduced the price of the Mustang Mach-E by up to $5,900 after Tesla slashed prices of its cars by as much as 20 percent.Ford Motor said on Monday that it was cutting prices on its top-selling battery-powered model, the Mustang Mach-E, and increasing production of the sport utility vehicle. It was the latest sign of intensifying competition in the electric car market.Two weeks ago, Tesla slashed prices of its electric cars by as much as 20 percent in response to softening demand around the world.The price cuts for the two most affordable versions of the Mach-E amounted to less than $1,000 each. Other models, with longer-range batteries and premium options, were reduced $3,680 to $5,900, reductions of 6 percent to 9 percent.“We want to make E.V.s more accessible, so we’re increasing production and reducing prices across the Mach-E lineup,” Ford’s chief executive, Jim Farley, said on Twitter. He added that “with higher production, we’re reducing costs, which allows us to share these savings with customers.”The lowest-priced Mustang Mach-E — a rear-wheel-drive model with a standard battery — now has a list price of $45,995, a reduction of $900. The high-performance Mach-E GT with an extended-range battery now sells for $63,995, a cut of $5,900.Tesla’s least expensive car is the Model 3, which is smaller than the Mustang Mach-E and starts at $43,990. The all-wheel-drive Model Y, a more direct competitor of the electric Mustang, starts at $53,490. An all-wheel-drive Mustang Mach-E with comparable battery range now lists for $53,995.Electric vehicles priced below $55,000 can qualify for federal tax credits of $7,500 that were made available starting Jan. 1 under the Inflation Reduction Act. Ford’s price cuts will make more versions of the Mach-E eligible for the credit.Ford said the new prices would automatically apply to customers who had placed orders and were waiting for their cars. Ford’s credit division is also offering subsidized interest rates as low as 5.34 percent on Mach E orders placed between Jan. 30 and April 3.Tesla has long dominated the electric car market, which it largely had to itself until the last couple of years, but is increasingly encountering stiff competition. Its rate of growth has slowed in China, where its is now outsold by a local manufacturer, BYD. In addition to Ford, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Kia and other automakers have introduced electric models in the United States that are selling well and are generally cheaper than Tesla’s luxury models.In 2022, Ford sold just under 40,000 Mach-Es, about 45 percent more than in 2021. That made the Mach-E the third-best-selling electric model after Tesla’s Model Y and Model 3.For much of the last two years, Tesla, Ford and other automakers raised prices of electric vehicles because demand for battery-powered cars far outstripped supply. But demand for cars and other big-ticket goods has weakened in recent months as the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates significantly. Fed policymakers are expected to slow their rate increases at their first meeting of the year on Wednesday. More

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    A Closely Watched Measure of Inflation Slowed in December

    The Personal Consumption Expenditures price index climbed 5 percent from a year earlier, slower than the reading last month.The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation index climbed 5 percent in the year through December, a notable slowdown from November and a continuation of a six-month downward trend.After stripping out food and fuel, the price index climbed 4.4 percent compared with a year earlier, in line with what economists in a Bloomberg survey had expected and a slowdown from 4.7 percent in November.The overall picture is one of moderating inflation — providing some long-awaited relief for consumers — but which remains unusually rapid at more than twice the 2 percent rate the Fed aims for on average over time.Central bankers are raising interest rates to make it more expensive to borrow money to make a major investment or finance a business expansion, hoping to cool demand enough that it drives price increases lower. Policymakers lifted their main policy rate from near-zero to more than 4.25 percent last year, and they are widely expected to raise it another quarter point in their decision on Feb. 1.The Fed is deciding when to stop its rate increases and how long to leave them high — decisions that it has said will be influenced by incoming data on inflation and the broader economy. That focuses attention on figures like the one released on Friday.“It will take time for supply and demand to come back into proper alignment and balance, so we must keep moving,” John C. Williams, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said last week.The Fed is also keeping an eye on measures of economic activity, including consumer spending and the labor market. While layoffs at big technology companies have been grabbing headlines in recent weeks, jobless claims remain very low and the unemployment rate is at the lowest level in half a century.That is expected to change this year. As the Fed’s interest rate increases kick in fully, economists at the central bank and on Wall Street expect the U.S. economy to slow and for unemployment to tick higher. Officials are hoping that they can pull off the slowdown without tipping the economy into an outright recession, but there is no guarantee. More

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    Inflation Is Cooling, Leaving America Asking: What Comes Next?

    After six months of declines, inflation seems to be turning a corner. But the road back to normal is an uncertain one.Martin Bate, a 31-year-old transportation planner in Fort Worth, spent the middle of 2022 feeling that he was “treading water” as high gas prices, climbing food costs and the prospect of a big rent increase chipped away at his finances.“I was really starting to feel financially squeezed in a way that I hadn’t felt ever before, since finishing college,” Mr. Bate said. Since then, he has received a promotion and a raise that amounted to 12 percent. Gas prices have fallen, and local housing costs have moderated enough that next month he is moving into a nicer apartment that costs less per square foot than his current place.“My personal situation has improved a good amount,” Mr. Bate said, explaining that he’s feeling cautious but hopeful about the economy. “It’s looking like it might shape out all right.”People across the country are finally experiencing some relief from what had been a relentless rise in living costs. After repeated false dawns in 2021 and early 2022 — when price increases slowed only to accelerate again — signs that inflation is genuinely turning a corner have begun to accumulate.Inflation has slowed on an annual basis for six straight months, dipping to 6.5 percent after peaking at about 9 percent last summer, partly as gas has become cheaper. But the deceleration is true even after volatile food and fuel are stripped out: So-called core consumer prices have climbed 0.3 percent or less for each of the past three months. That’s faster than the 0.2 percent month-to-month changes that were typical before the pandemic but much slower than the 0.9 percent peak in April 2021. More

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    As Fed Nears Next Rate Decision, Its Vice Chair Cites Reasons for Hope

    Lael Brainard, the vice chair of the Federal Reserve, emphasized that non-wage causes had driven inflation in a sweeping speech.The Federal Reserve’s second-in-command offered a hopeful analysis of America’s inflation situation on Thursday, emphasizing that many of the factors that have driven prices higher over recent years may be poised to fade.“It remains possible that a continued moderation in aggregate demand could facilitate continued easing in the labor market and reduction in inflation without a significant loss of employment,” Lael Brainard, the Fed’s vice chair, said in a speech at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.Ms. Brainard spoke just days before Fed officials are set to begin the quiet period ahead of their Feb. 1 interest rate decision.In some ways, she broke with what her colleagues have been saying about the forces that could keep inflation high. Many central bankers have emphasized the roles that a tight labor market and strong wage growth are likely to play in propping up price increases, but Ms. Brainard focused on other factors that have sped up price increases, particularly when it comes to services.“There are a range of views on what it will take to bring down this component of inflation to prepandemic levels,” Ms. Brainard acknowledged in the remarks. She noted that wages are an important cost for services firms, so “one possible channel is through a weakening in labor demand.”But she added that “to the extent that inputs other than wages may have been responsible in part for important price increases,” a reversal in those factors could help to lower services inflation.In particular, Ms. Brainard noted that supply chain issues and jumps in fuel prices might be passing through to elevate some service costs, and that those could fade away, assuming supply chains continue to heal and gas stays relatively cheap.And Ms. Brainard also cited the reversal of swollen profit margins as something that could help inflation to moderate.Companies have enjoyed an unusual burst of pricing power in the pandemic era as repeated supply chain issues and resilient consumer demand have given them both a reason to try to raise prices and the wherewithal to do so without scaring away shoppers. Many firms have lifted what they are charging more than they needed to cover climbing costs, swelling their profits.“The labor share of income has declined over the past two years and appears to be at or below prepandemic levels, while corporate profits as a share of G.D.P. remain near postwar highs,” Ms. Brainard said.But that might be changing as demand wanes and price sensitivity returns.“The compression of these markups as supply constraints ease, inventories rise and demand cools could contribute to disinflationary pressures,” she said.The Fed is expected to raise interest rates again at its upcoming meeting as it tries to ensure that rapid inflation comes back under control. Officials slowed from a string of three-quarter-point moves in 2022 to a half-point move in December, and several have signaled that they would favor slowing to a quarter-point move at the February gathering.While Ms. Brainard did not speculate on what size rate move would be warranted in her prepared remarks, she did emphasize that borrowing costs will need to remain high to make sure that inflation moderates fully.“Policy will need to be sufficiently restrictive for some time to make sure inflation returns to 2 percent on a sustained basis,” she said. More

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    Fed Officials Ask How to Better Understand Inflation After Surprises

    Federal Reserve officials, including Lisa Cook, a board member, are wrestling with how to think about price increases after 18 months of rapid change.NEW ORLEANS — Federal Reserve officials kicked off 2023 by addressing a thorny question that is poised to bedevil the central bank throughout the year: How should central bankers understand inflation after 18 months of repeatedly misjudging it?Lisa D. Cook, one of the Fed’s seven Washington-based governors, used a speech at the American Economic Association’s annual gathering in New Orleans to talk about how officials could do a better job of predicting price increases in the future. Her voice was part of a growing chorus at the conference, where economists spent time soul-searching about why they misjudged inflation and how they could do a better job next time.Fed officials must “continue to advance our understanding of inflation” and “our ability to forecast risks,” Ms. Cook said during her remarks, suggesting that central bankers could update their models to better incorporate unexpected shocks and to better predict moments at which inflation might take off.Her comments underscored the challenge confronting monetary policymakers this year. Officials have rapidly raised rates to try to cool the economy and bring inflation back under control, and they must now determine not only when to stop those moves but also how long they should hold borrowing costs high enough to substantially restrict economic activity.Those judgments will be difficult to make. Although inflation is now slowing, it is hard to know how quickly and how fully it will fade. The Fed wants to avoid retreating too soon, but keeping rates too high for too long would come at a cost — harming the economy and labor market more than is necessary. Adding to the challenge: Policymakers are making those decisions at a moment when they still don’t know what the economy will look like after the pandemic and are using data that is being skewed by its lasting effects.“The pandemic has triggered a lot of changes in terms of how our economy operates,” Raphael Bostic, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said during a panel on Friday. “We’re very much in flux, and it’s hard to know for sure how things are going to evolve on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis.”Understanding inflation is key to the thorny policy questions facing the Fed. But determining what causes and what perpetuates price increases is a complicated economic question, as recent experience has demonstrated.Officials have raised rates rapidly to try to slow the economy and bring inflation back under control.Jim Wilson/The New York TimesFed officials and economists more broadly have had a dismal track record of predicting inflation since the onset of the pandemic. In 2021, as prices first began to take off, officials predicted that they would be “transitory.” When they lasted longer than expected, both policymakers and many forecasters on Wall Street and in academia spent 2022 predicting that they would begin to fade faster than they actually did.Given those mistakes, policymakers have begun to suggest that the central bank needs to reassess how it looks at inflation.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Eurozone Inflation Eases on Lower Energy Prices

    The rate of price increases in countries using the euro slowed to 9.2 percent in December, down from 10.1 percent a month earlier.Lower energy prices helped to push inflation in Europe lower last month, the European Commission reported on Friday, but many prices are still rising at a brisk pace and policymakers have given little indication that they plan to halt planned interest rate increases.Consumer prices in the countries that use the euro as their currency rose at an annual rate of 9.2 percent in December, down from the double-digit levels of 10.1 percent in November and 10.6 percent in October.Declines in inflation reported this week in France, Germany and Spain sparked hopes that the relentless rise across the continent may have finally peaked. But several influential voices urged caution, noting that while the so-called headline rate of inflation has eased, core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, has not shown the same drop. In fact, for December, the eurozone’s core rate of inflation rose to 5.2 percent, from 5 percent the month before.Europe has benefited from a streak of mild weather, which has lowered the demand for energy, particularly the natural gas used to power much of the continent’s heating infrastructure. Several governments have also offered subsidies to blunt the painfully high energy prices that consumers pay. The drop in Germany’s inflation rate, to 9.6 percent in December from 11.3 percent the month before, was partly due to one-time assistance to help households pay their energy bills, according to the government’s statistics office.The data showed that energy prices in the eurozone rose at an annual rate of 25.7 percent in December, down from as high as 41.5 percent in October. “Europe is very lucky at the moment with the weather,” said Claus Vistesen, chief eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. He added that government energy relief had inserted a “wedge between reality and the data.”“It’s a price control,” he said, and “once you take out that, it’s not as clear that inflation is that benign.”Nearly all eurozone countries marked a decline in their main inflation rate in December, including France (6.7 percent, from 7.1 percent in November), Italy (12.3 percent, from 12.6 percent), Spain (5.6 percent, from 6.7 percent) and the Netherlands (11 percent, from 11.3 percent). The numbers bolstered the argument that the eurozone’s record-setting pace of inflation in the past year will slowly lose steam in 2023. “We are likely past the peak,” said Riccardo Marcelli Fabiani, an economist at Oxford Economics, in a note on Friday. But he added, “we expect inflation to cool only gradually, remaining high in the short term.”The European Central Bank, which has a target of 2 percent annual inflation, has already indicated that it is likely to raise interest rates half a point in February. Christine Lagarde, the bank’s president, said last month that she expected interest rates to rise “significantly further, because inflation remains far too high and is projected to stay above our target for too long.”The December data, showing easing overall inflation but persistent underlying price pressure, will probably stoke “tense negotiations among policymakers in the next few months” noted Mr. Vistesen after the numbers were released. The Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank, is also expected to continue raising rates.This week, Gita Gopinath, first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, told the Financial Times that the Fed should “stay the course” with its planned increases.“I think it’s clear that we haven’t turned the corner yet on inflation,” she said. At the same time, the fund has also projected that a third of the world economy will face recession this year. More

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    Even a Soft Landing for the Economy May Be Uneven

    Small businesses and lower-income families could feel pinched in the months ahead whether or not a recession is avoided this year.One of the defining economic stories of the past year was the complex debate over whether the U.S. economy was going into a recession or merely descending, with some altitude sickness, from a peak in growth after pandemic lows.This year, those questions and contentions are likely to continue. The Federal Reserve has been steeply increasing borrowing costs for consumers and businesses in a bid to curb spending and slow down inflation, with the effects still making their way through the veins of commercial activity and household budgeting. So most banks and large credit agencies expect a recession in 2023.At the same time, a budding crop of economists and major market investors see a firm chance that the economy will avoid a recession, or scrape by with a brief stall in growth, as cooled consumer spending and the easing of pandemic-era disruptions help inflation gingerly trend toward more tolerable levels — a hopeful outcome widely called a soft landing.“The possibility of getting a soft landing is greater than the market believes,” said Jason Draho, an economist and the head of Americas asset allocation for UBS Global Wealth Management. “Inflation has now come down faster than some recently expected, and the labor market has held up better than expected.”What seems most likely is that even if a soft landing is achieved, it will be smoother for some households and businesses and rockier for others.In late 2020 and early 2021, talk of a “K-shaped recovery” took root, inspired by the early pandemic economy’s split between secure remote workers — whose savings, house prices and portfolios surged — and the millions more navigating hazardous or tenuous in-person jobs or depending on a large-yet-porous unemployment aid system.Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said: “I wish there were a completely painless way to restore price stability. There isn’t. And this is the best we can do.”Haiyun Jiang/The New York TimesIn 2023, if there’s a soft landing, it could be K-shaped, too. The downside is likely to be felt most by cash-starved small businesses and by workers no longer buoyed by the savings and labor bargaining power they built up during the pandemic.In any case, more turbulence lies ahead as fairly low unemployment, high inflation and shaky growth continue to queasily coexist.Generally healthy corporate balance sheets and consumer credit could be bulwarks against the forces of volatile prices, global instability and the withdrawal of emergency-era federal aid. Chief executives of companies that cater to financially sound middle-class and affluent households remain confident in their outlook. Al Kelly, the chief executive of Visa, the credit card company, said recently that “we are seeing nothing but stability.”The State of Jobs in the United StatesEconomists have been surprised by recent strength in the labor market, as the Federal Reserve tries to engineer a slowdown and tame inflation.Retirees: About 3.5 million people are missing from the U.S. labor force. A large number of them, roughly two million, have simply retired.Switching Jobs: A hallmark of the pandemic era has been the surge in employee turnover. The wave of job-switching may be taking a toll on productivity.Delivery Workers: Food app services are warning that a proposed wage increase for New York City workers could mean higher delivery costs.A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?: Employees seeking wage increases to cover their costs of living amid rising prices could set off a cycle in which fast inflation today begets fast inflation tomorrow.But the Fed’s projections indicate that 1.6 million people could lose jobs by late this year — and that the unemployment rate will rise at a magnitude that in recent history has always been accompanied by a recession.“There will be some softening in labor market conditions,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said at his most recent news conference, explaining the rationale for the central bank’s recent persistence in raising rates. “And I wish there were a completely painless way to restore price stability. There isn’t. And this is the best we can do.”Will the bottom 50 percent backslide?Over the past two years, researchers have frequently noted that, on average, lower-wage workers have reaped the greatest pay gains, with bumps in compensation that often outpaced inflation, especially for those who switched jobs. But those gains are relative and were often upticks from low baselines.Consumer spending accounts for roughly 70 percent of economic activity.Jim Wilson/The New York TimesAccording to the Realtime Inequality tracker, created by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, inflation-adjusted disposable income for the bottom 50 percent of working-age adults grew 4.2 percent from January 2019 to September 2022. Among the top 50 percent, income lagged behind inflation. But that comparison leaves out the context that the average income for the bottom 50 percent in 2022 was $25,500 — roughly a $13 hourly pay rate.“As we look ahead, I think it is entirely possible that the households and the people we usually worry about at the bottom of the income distribution are going to run into some kind of combination of job loss and softer wage gains, right as whatever savings they had from the pandemic gets depleted,” said Karen Dynan, a former chief economist at the Treasury Department and a professor at Harvard University. “And it’s going to be tough on them.”Consumer spending accounts for roughly 70 percent of economic activity. The widespread resilience of overall consumption in the past year despite high inflation and sour business sentiment was largely attributed to the savings that households of all kinds accumulated during the pandemic: a $2.3 trillion gumbo of government aid, reduced spending on in-person services, windfalls from mortgage refinancing and cashed-out stock gains.What’s left of those stockpiles is concentrated among wealthier households.After spiking during the pandemic, the overall rate of saving among Americans has quickly plunged amid inflation.The personal saving rate — a monthly measure of the percentage of after-tax income that households save overall — has dropped precipitously in recent months. 

    Note: The personal saving rate is also referred to as “personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income.” Personal saving is defined as overall income minus spending and taxes paid.Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic AnalysisBy The New York TimesMost major U.S. banks have reported that checking balances are above prepandemic levels across all income groups. Yet the cost of living is higher than it was in 2019 throughout the country. And depleted savings among the bottom third of earners could continue to ebb while rent and everyday prices still rise, albeit more slowly.Most key economic measures are reported in “real” terms, subtracting inflation from changes in individual income (real wage growth) and total output (real gross domestic product, or G.D.P.). If government calculations of inflation continue to abate as quickly as markets expect, inflation-adjusted numbers could become more positive, making the decelerating economy sound healthier.That wonky dynamic could form a deep tension between resilient-looking official data and the sentiment of consumers who may again find themselves with little financial cushion.Does small business risk falling behind?Another potential factor for a K-shaped landing could be the growing pressure on small businesses, which have less wiggle room than bigger companies in managing costs. Small employers are also more likely to be affected by the tightening of credit as lenders become far pickier and pricier than just a year ago.In a December survey of 3,252 small-business owners by Alignable, a Boston-based small business network with seven million members, 38 percent said they had only one month or less of cash reserves, up 12 percentage points from a year earlier. Many landlords who were lenient about payments at the height of the pandemic have stiffened, asking for back rent in addition to raising current rents.Many landlords who were lenient about payments at the height of the pandemic have stiffened, asking for back rent in addition to raising current rents.Gabby Jones for The New York TimesUnlike many large-scale employers that have locked in cheap long-term funding by selling corporate bonds, small businesses tend to fund their operations and payrolls with a mix of cash on hand, business credit cards and loans from commercial banks. Higher interest rates have made the latter two funding sources far more expensive — spelling trouble for companies that may need a fresh line of credit in the coming months. And incoming cash flows depend on sales remaining strong, a deep uncertainty for most.A Bank of America survey of small-business owners in November found that “more than half of respondents expect a recession in 2023 and plan to reduce spending accordingly.” For a number of entrepreneurs, decisions to maintain profitability may lead to reductions in staff.Some businesses wrestling with labor shortages, increased costs and a tapering off in customers have already decided to close.Susan Dayton, a co-owner of Hamilton Street Cafe in Albany, N.Y., closed her business in the fall once she felt the rising costs of key ingredients and staff turnover were no longer sustainable.She said the labor shortage for small shops like hers could not be solved by simply offering more pay. “What I have found is that offering people more money just means you’re paying more for the same people,” Ms. Dayton said.That tension among profitability, staffing and customer growth will be especially stark for smaller businesses. But it exists in corporate America, too. Some industry analysts say company earnings, which ripped higher for two years, could weaken but not plunge, with input costs leveling off, while businesses manage to keep prices elevated even if sales slow.That could limit the bulk of layoffs to less-valued workers during corporate downsizing and to certain sectors that are sensitive to interest rates, like real estate or tech — creating another potential route for a soft, if unequal, landing.The biggest challenge to overcome is that the income of one person or business is the spending of another. Those who feel that inflation can be tamed without a collapse in the labor market hope that spending slows just enough to cool off price increases, but not so much that it leads employers to lay off workers — who could pull back further on spending, setting off a vicious circle.Those who feel that inflation can be tamed without a collapse in the labor market hope that spending slows just enough to cool off price increases.Jim Wilson/The New York TimesWhat are the chances of a soft landing?If the strained U.S. economy is going to unwind rather than unravel, it will need multiple double-edged realities to be favorably resolved.For instance, many retail industry analysts think the holiday season may have been the last hurrah for the pandemic-era burst in purchases of goods. Some consumers may be sated from recent spending, while others become more selective in their purchases, balking at higher prices.That could sharply reduce companies’ “pricing power” and slow inflation associated with goods. Service-oriented businesses may be somewhat affected, too. But the same phenomenon could lead to layoffs, as slowdowns in demand reduce staffing needs.In the coming months, the U.S. economy will be influenced in part by geopolitics in Europe and the coronavirus in China. Volatile shifts in what some researchers call “systemically significant prices,” like those for gas, utilities and food, could materialize. People preparing for a downturn by cutting back on investments or spending could, in turn, create one. And it is not clear how far the Fed will go in raising interest rates.Then again, those risk factors could end up relatively benign.“It’s 50-50, but I have to take a side, right? So I take the side of no recession,” said Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “I can make the case on either side of this pretty easily, but I think with a little bit of luck and some tough policymaking, we can make our way through.” More

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    Supply Problems Hurt Auto Sales in 2022. Now Demand Is Weakening.

    A global semiconductor shortage is easing, which could allow carmakers to lift production this year. But higher interest rates could keep sales low.Last year, sales of new cars and trucks fell to their lowest level in a decade because automakers could not make enough vehicles for consumers to buy. This year, sales are likely to remain soft, but for an entirely different reason — weakening demand.The Federal Reserve’s interest rate increases, which are intended to slow inflation, have made it harder and more expensive for consumers to finance automobile purchases, after prices had already risen to record highs.Analysts expect that higher rates and a slowing economy will force some U.S. shoppers to delay car purchases or steer away from showrooms altogether in 2023 even if automakers crank out more vehicles than they did last year because they can get more parts.“For over a decade, low interest rates have helped people buy the big cars that Americans like,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds, a market research firm. “Low rates from the Fed are what made those attractive offers for zero-percent financing and 72-month loans possible, but with the higher rates, it’s a pretty unfriendly market for people buying a car.”Edmunds estimates that automakers will sell 14.8 million cars and trucks in the United States this year, which would be well below the sales that automakers became accustomed to in the previous decade.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More