DETROIT -- Domestic automakers Tuesday broke a string of 10 straight periods of sales increases, reporting a 3.2 percent drop in early February car sales and the worst selling rate in 22 years.
The five automakers sold 137,678 cars in the Feb. 1-10 period, down 3.2 percent from 142,215 in the same period last year. The selling rate of 15,298 cars per day was the worst since 1961.
However, the annual rate for the period was 6.2 million, just a shade behind last year's 6.3 million.
Sales are still up 7.9 percent for the year. Automakers have sold 550,571 autos compared to 510,353 to date last year.
The sales drop, which came despite offers of 11.9 percent loan rates, prompted the firms to point out sales in the first 10 days of February, 1982 were among the strongest of the entire year.
At that time, the major automakers each offered extensive rebate programs prompted by General Motors Corp.'s 'Let's Get Moving' plan.
GM was forced to offer its rebates after talks with the United Auto Workers fell apart. It had promised during the negotiations to pass on union concessions as customer rebates.
Chrysler Corp. was the only Big Three automaker to record a sales increase for the first 10 days. Its sales were 16,846, up 2.8 percent from 16,384 the year before.
Chrysler's sales so far this year are 63,951 compared to 61,674 in 1982, up 4 percent. The automaker earlier in the day announced it was offering rebates from $300 to $1,000 to clear its growing inventories of unsold cars.
GM reported a 5.2 percent drop in sales for the first 10 days. It sold 83,544 autos compared to 88,131 last year. GM's drop in sales broke its own string of 10 straight periods of sales increases.
The No. 1 automaker's sales for the year to date are up 8.8 percent. It has sold 338,014 cars compared to last year's 310,675.
Ford Motor Co.'s sales in the first 10 days dropped 8.6 percent to 30,925 versus 33,824 last year. Ford sales so far this year are up .1 percent to 122,714 from 122,630 in 1982.
Ford analyst L. Raymond Windecker said sales should peak at the beginning of March as the end of current financing programs approaches. He cautioned the measure to watch is the annual selling rate, not the percentage change.
American Motors Corp. turned in the industry's biggest percentage increase for the 10 days -- 114.1 percent. Its sales were an estimated 4,800 compared to 2,242 last year.
AMC, which is seeing great success with its Renault Alliance, has sold 123 percent more cars this year or 18,765 versus 8,415 last year.
Volkswagen of America broke a minor string of two straight increases. VW in the first 10 days had a 4.3 percent drop in sales to 1,563 from 1,634 last year. The automaker so far this year has sold 7,124 cars, up 2.4 percent from 6.959 last year.