European new-car sales plunged 27.0 percent in January compared with January 2008 to less than 1 million vehicles, the worst January total in at least two decades.
Every automaker and all 28 markets suffered losses, said ACEA, the European automakers' trade group.
The sales falloff made January worse in terms of year-to-year percentage decline than any month last year, when a second-half economic crunch dragged the full year down 7.8 percent to 14.7 million.
"It was dreadfully bad," said Nigel Griffiths, Global Insight's head of European automotive forecasting in London. He forecasts 2009 sales of 11.8 million in western Europe — the biggest chunk of the European market — which would be a decline of 13.0 percent.
The most encouraging news in January was that French sales fell only 7.9 percent.