Automakers may post the lowest U.S. sales total for any February in at least 34 years when results are tallied Tuesday.
Analysts forecasts range from 685,000 sales from the auto information site Edmunds.com to 720,000 from Wachovia analyst Rich Kwas. That would be the fewest for any February since at least 1976, the most distant year of available data.
Analysts forecasts for seasonally adjusted sales range from 9.0 million to 9.5 million units, as the U.S. recession stretches into its 15th month. Januarys sales rate was 9.8 million units, the lowest since August 1982.
"The environment continues to be very challenging," George Pipas, chief sales analyst at Ford Motor Co., said today. Hes projecting an annual rate of 9 million vehicles, more than 6 million units below the 15.4 million rate of February 2008.
The results will provide no solace for an industry reeling globally from rising losses and mounting pleas for government aid.
In the United States, sales continue to be choked by consumer confidence that fell to a historic low for the third straight month, record-high continuing claims for unemployment benefits and still-frozen credit markets, analysts said.
The biggest Japanese automakers are expected to report sales declines of at least a third and the Detroit 3 of at least 37 percent, the analysts said.
Some analysts had suggested that the market may have bottomed out after the rate of sales to individual customers stabilized from November through January. But the further drop in sales in February has made J.D. Power rethink its full-year forecast.
Yesterday, the market-research firm lowered its 2009 light-vehicle sales prediction to 10.4 million units from 11.4 million.
The outlook for the rest of the year is still precarious, said Jeff Schuster, executive director of forecasting at J.D. Power.
At best, if we can at least find some stability, the industry would grab on to that and be happy, he said. Then you can plan.
Ford also changed its prediction for 2009 light-vehicle sales to a range of 10.2 million to 12.2 million units. Its previous forecast assumed 11.2 million to 12.2 million vehicles. Chrysler LLC, in seeking $5 billion in additional U.S. aid last week, pegged the figure at 10.1 million.
Low demand from fleets, which dragged Januarys sales rate below 10 million for the first time since August 1982, likely continued, analysts said.
Fords sales fell between 37 and 50 percent from February 2008, analysts said. General Motors saw sales decline between 38 and 48 percent.
Forecasts for Chryslers sales drop ranged from 45 to 55 percent.
Monthly U.S. sales figures from Automotive News and the Commerce Department go back only to 1976. They show the lowest February total in that time frame as 809,800 in 1983.
Reuters contributed to this report.