U.S. auto sales totals for March may be weaker than those in the first two months of the year, falling below a 9 million-unit annual rate.
The Detroit 3 will report declines tomorrow of more than 40 percent, analysts say. That would mark the third straight month that each has posted drops in that range as demand stays at 27-year lows.
In March 2008, the annual sales rate was 14.8 million.
The results will add to the pressure on Chrysler LLC and General Motors, which are surviving on $17.4 billion in federal loans and were spurned yesterday by President Barack Obama in their bid for $21.6 billion more.
Ford, which hasnt asked for U.S. aid, expects the sales rate in March to mimic February's 9.1 million -- or be "perhaps a little weaker," Ford sales analyst George Pipas said. The January rate was 9.8 million.
An Automotive News survey of eight analysts indicated an average March sales rate of 8.9 million units. A Reuters poll of 31 economists pointed to a rate of 9.2 million.
GM and Ford both announced programs today to ease buyer concerns about losing their jobs as the U.S. recession stretches past a 16th month and the nations unemployment rate stands at 8.1 percent, a 25-year high.
The first automaker to adopt such an effort, Hyundai, is one of just three established brands to record an increase in U.S. sales this year.
American Honda Motor Co., Nissan North America and Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. will probably post March sales declines of around 40 percent.
For those companies, the culprit is lack of consumer confidence, Brian Johnson, a Barclays Capital analyst, said in a note to investors.
Their credit companies were not squeezed out of the credit markets, Johnson said, drawing a contrast between the health of the Japanese automakers captives and credit freezes at GMAC Financial Services and Chrysler Financial. The lower traffic in the showrooms of the Asian brands cannot be attributed to consumer concerns regarding their long-term viability.
The March sales rate is unsustainable, said Goldman Sachs analyst Patrick Archambault, who contends automakers would be selling 13 million vehicles annually if consumers were buying a new car for each one being scrapped.
Archambault said he thinks monthly sales rates will recover to 11 million units by the end of this year. Last year, 13.2 million light vehicles were sold in the United States. Through last year, the average this decade was 16.4 million.