The first quarter of 2009 could best be described as the worst of times in the auto industry. With the full weight of the global financial collapse weighing down on the industry, sales dropped like a stone and production screeched to a halt. General Motors and Ford produced only 371,000 and 349,000 vehicles respectively during Q1 2009, a mere fraction of the industry giants' overall capacity. One year later, the auto industry here in the U.S. is still far from healthy, but many industry experts feel the market has stabilized.

Evidence of that fact presents itself when looking at production data for the fourth quarter of 2009 versus the first quarter of 2010. Automotive News is reporting that Ford plans to build 550,000 cars and trucks in the first quarter while GM plans 650,000 units. While that's a bump of 58 percent and 75 percent versus Q1 2009, respectively, the numbers are within a few thousand units of Q4 production. But even compared to Q4, production is up around four percent for both Ford and GM – a hopeful sign for the industry.

But while GM and Ford appear to have good production news, AN is reporting that the forecast is a bit cloudier for Chrysler. The Pentastar's recent announcement that it would prolong shutdown over the holidays throws some doubt on the Auburn Hills, MI-based automaker's reported plan to increase Q1 2010 production by 56% versus Q1 2009. While Chrysler was supposed to up production to 376,000 units, the shutdown could drop production by up to 30,000 units.

[Source: Automotive News – subs req'd | Image: Scott Olson/Getty]

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