Ford's 41.6 per cent fall and GM's 49 per cent drop were steeper than analysts' forecasts. Honda, Nissan and Toyota also posted declines ranging from 27.9 per cent to 31.7 per cent, making January the fourth month in a row of sales falls of more than 30 per cent.
Ford sales analyst George Pipas projected the industry's annual selling rate would fall below 10 million for the month. That would be below analysts' average projection of a 10.3 million rate and the lowest in almost 27 years.
"The biggest reasons for the decline in the sales rate was the fleet market," Pipas said. "We estimate the industry fleet sales were down 65 or more percent from a year ago."
Ford said its sales to individual customers fell 27 per cent, while its fleet sales plunged 65 per cent. The fleet figure includes a 90 per cent drop in sales to rental companies.
Chrysler was down 54.8 per cent.