CLERMONT-FERRAND, France (Oct. 25) — Groupe Michelin reported a 3.2-percent drop in third quarter sales, to $3.58 billion, but the company insists it still is on target to achieve its targeted operating margin of 7.0-7.4 percent for 2002. Market conditions during the period were difficult but in line with forecasts, the company said. Sales for the nine months ended Sept. 30 were up 2.7 percent, to $10.8 billion. Earnings were not disclosed at this time. Declining U.S. and South American currency values diluted sales by 2.7 percent, offsetting a 2.1-percent rise in sales volumes, the company said. On the cost side, Michelin downplayed the impact of rises in raw materials costs, which represent 21.4 percent of its net sales. Despite a 75-percent rise in natural rubber prices — expressed in Singaporean dollars — Michelin said it paid only 15 percent more for the commodity over the first nine months of 2002.