The "ugly situation" at Ford and General Motors is wosening daily, a US automotive industry commentator said yesterday after the Detroit pair posted a slump in monthly sales.
In a US car and truck market that dwindled by eight per cent in September, GM sold 24 per cent fewer vehicles while Ford suffered a 20 per cent fall.
Ford and GM spokesmen blamed the knock-on effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, high petrol prices and economic uncertainty pervading the US for the fall.
And sales of America's beloved gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles (SUVs) did take a big hit last month - although the market remained buoyant enough to give Ford unit Land Rover's sales a shot in the arm.
Bond rating agency Standard & Poor's yesterday put the companies on notice their paper, already suffering "junk" status, could be downgraded further on growing concerns about their ability to stage a recovery.
The waning fortunes of GM and Ford, the world's number one and number three carmakers, were underlined by ever-advancing Far Eastern rivals.
Toyota, the world's most profitable carmaker and set to overtake GM sales, was ten per cent up, while Honda (12 per cent) and Nissan (16 per cent) did even better.
Even Chrysler, the smallest of Detroit's "Big Three" managed a four per cent rise last month. The pain of GM and Ford is intensified by the fact deep discounting which helped keep sales buoyant over summer is no longer enough to tempt US consumers away from higher quality, more fuel-efficient offerings of overseas rivals. September's falls are seen as "pay back" for a relatively good previous three months, which left stocks of popular models low.
"Detroit has been trying to stimulate sales, basically pull sales from the future by reducing prices while their competitors overseas have focused on producing better products," said Thomas Leitz, an analyst at Argent Capital Management.
Ford at least had grounds to celebrate as Land Rover posted a 45 per cent sales rise fuelled by new models. Of the 3,425 units sold in September, 1,192 were the new generation Discovery and 1,106 were the new Range Rover Sport. Land Rover sales to the end of September were 32 per cent ahead at 30,930.
It was a different story, at Jaguar, Land Rover's stablemate in Ford's Premier Automotive Group. The company, hit by falling demand for luxury cars in all three main markets - the UK, US and mainland Europe - saw volumes decline by 42 per cent to 2,135 last month and by 32 per cent to 24,284 for the year to date.
Sales of the XJ saloon rose by seven per cent to 827 on the month, but X-Type was 71 per cent down at 603, XK sales fell by 28.5 per cent to 138 and SType was ten per cent adrift at 567.
Jaguar is adamant it is not about to panic, although it is looking for up to 300 managerial volunteers for redundancy as part of the Ford group's global jobs shake-out.
And its prestige was boosted by overtaking the Lexus LS430 - rated one of the best quality cars in the world - to take first place in the AutoPacific 2005 vehicle satisfaction awards in the US.
But it also emerged Ford had given up hope of returning Jaguar to profit by 2007 as conditions deteriorated.