DETROIT — In a sign of how far industry expectations have dropped, an annual retail sales pace of around 8.5 million vehicles has become a comfort of sorts for desperate auto executives.
In January, automakers sold only 656,881 light vehicles in the United States, for an annualized rate of 9.8 million vehicles. That's the lowest annualized rate since August 1982 — an abysmal result caused in large part by collapsing fleet sales.
The silver lining? Retail sales have held steady for about four months. Ford Motor Co. executives noted that January marks four straight months of a retail sales rate near the 8.5 million-unit annual rate.
That could mean the retail market finally has hit bottom. But it's way down from 2007, when U.S. retail sales — excluding fleets — ranged up to 13.5 million units.
"We're heartened to see it stabilize — although stabilizing at an awful level," said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president of U.S. sales and marketing.