When you need to reach 46 years into America's past to find comparable auto industry numbers, it's all right to start thinking "Maybe this is pretty serious..." Various estimates of January 2009 U.S. car sales hover around 660,000. According to General Motors executive Mike DiGiovanni, that's "the lowest January in terms of unit sales since 1963."
There were about three million fewer cars sold in 2008 than 2007. Based on 2007's numbers, it would be the same as if Acura, Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Lexus, MINI, Porsche, and Saab all closed their doors in 2008. In terms of pure automotive carnage, that's not the kind of damage you can just buff out. And the predictions for the future agree on two points: it's going to get worse, and it won't return to what it was for years to come.