EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly called April's seasonally adjusted annual selling rate the highest this year. January's rate was higher.
Auto people studied the April sales figures. Then they shuddered and dug in for another month of hoping and praying.
April was not a good month. The 819,817 new cars and light trucks delivered by dealers were 34.3 percent fewer than in April 2008. Last month was the 18th straight month that U.S. sales trailed the year-ago total.
The 3,024,365 unit sales in the first four months of 2009 fell 37.4 percent below the same period last year.
Although Ford Motor Co. and General Motors did poorly in April, each company had its lowest monthly percentage decline this year from 2008 levels. GM was down 33.2 percent, and Ford dipped 33.0 percent.
The Ford brand even had something to brag about: Sales of the mid-sized Ford Fusion jumped to 18,321 units last month, up 21.7 percent over last year. Give credit to advertising and Ford's incentive program.
GM had no such lift out of the Dumpster. Sales of every GM brand were down 26 percent or more in April. Pontiac plunged 54.9 percent in April, and sales can be expected to drop even more as the news of its pending death sinks in.
Among other GM brands, Saturn sales are down 56.4 percent for the year, and Hummer is off 61.6 percent. Hummer sold only 913 units last month.
Chrysler LLC sales fell below 100,000 units last month, down 48.1 percent. This week the industry will begin learning the answer to a much-asked question: Will Americans buy a car or truck from a bankrupt company?
The most interested observer? GM, of course.