Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Auto Industry Has Hit The Bottom? I Say Yes

Toyota Dealership

As I was watching the dismal auto sales numbers come in on Monday, I was waiting for somebody to drop me an e-mail and sarcastically remind me that it was just a few months ago when I said, "Things can't get much worse in the auto industry." That e-mail never arrived, but the bad news from the automakers was non stop.

By the time Chrysler reported a 53 %decline in December sales, I thought it was the fitting way to cap a day of horrible news. The numbers last month don't lie:

• Chrysler Down 53%

• Toyota Down 37%

• Honda Down 35%

• Ford Down 32%

• GM Down 31%

The fourth quarter produced the weakest auto sales since 1981, and in general, few expect a rebound anytime soon. In fact, Ford said on its conference call that the first quarter would be bad. You get the point.

But how much worse will it get? Realistically, where is the bottom? Much like the stock market, you can't predict the bottom of a sales market. There are, however, some encouraging signs.

GM saw a noticeable increase in showroom traffic the last week of December. GMAC and other lenders are starting to loosen up credit restrictions on potential buyers. And the offers/incentives have rarely been this sweet.

So, at the risk of opening myself for more ridicule, I will once again predict that we have seen the bottom for the auto industry. We won't snap back in sales. We may even see a shock or two over the next six months. Still, I believe that this December is the point we will look back on as the time when the auto industry hit its low point.

    • Toyota Plans 11-Day Factory Halt in Japan
    • December Car Sales Plunge, Closing Brutal 2008

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