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Hitting The Brakes, Again.

Friday, 16 Jan 2009 | 11:11 AM ET
GM logo, General Motors logo
GM logo, General Motors logo

If you thought the auto industry and economy might be close to bottoming out and getting some traction, think again.

The world's two largest auto makers are sending fresh signs that things will remain as bad, if not worse in 2009.

Get ready for a rocky first quarter of the year.

GM lowered its estimate for U.S. industry sales this year from 12 million to 10.5 million vehicles. Want to put that in perspective? The last time sales were that low was 1982.

Meanwhile, Toyotais cutting production at its U.S. plants in the first quarter. The reduction varies by plant. Toyota is doing this to cut its inventory that stands at 80-90 days.

So what does all of this mean?

Taken as a whole, it tells us the economy and consumer confidence remains weak. And don't expect that to change anytime soon. Sure, congress is passing bills to spark the economy, but it will take a while before that trickles down to you and me.

Still, there's a bigger issue weighing on the auto makers: lack of consumer confidence.

To quote a dealer I was talking to last week, "it's a lot tougher to get people to go from looking, to buying.” Frankly, I don't blame people. Every day, there's a steady dose of indications we don't know when the economy will start to come back.

Against that back drop, I completely understand why someone says to themselves, "my car or truck isn't dead, let's just stick with it."

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Click on Ticker to Track Corporate News:

- Ford Motor

- General Motors

- Nissan

- Honda Motor

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Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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