DETROIT: US auto sales fell by 37% in January compared with the year-ago period, according to industry research firm Autodata. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler all posted declines above the industry average.

Sales figures from Autodata show that 656,976 cars and light trucks were purchased during the month, the lowest total since December 1981.

Chrysler's sales were down 55% to 62,157 versus January 2007, General Motors posted a drop of 49% to 128,198, and Ford saw a decline of 40% to 93,041.

In fact, January's total sales figures marked the first time that US auto sales slipped behind China, where GM estimates 790,000 cars were purchased in the first month of this year.

The main factors behind the decline are said to be slowing fleet purchases and tighter credit conditions, with lending by GMAC, GM's credit arm, down nearly 80% year-on-year to $2.7 billion (€2.1bn; £1.9bn).

Some observers argued that the figures threw doubt on the bailout of the industry, while even supporters like Congressman Sander Levin, saying: "We're going to have to do more."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff