If there is one reasonably reliable barometer of the state of the nation’s economy, it’s surely car sales.

House price fluctuations can vary wildly from one part of the country to another and even the seemingly all-powerful big beasts of the supermarket world occasionally fall prey to discount operators, such as Lidl and Aldi.

But private motoring remains an everyday way of life for tens of thousands of people – and countless thousands rely on credit to fund what many view as an essential 21st century freedom.

That credit has become far harder to obtain, and households already creaking under the pressures of the economic downturn cannot necessarily replace the family car as readily as before.

So the UK car sector is facing its worst sales environment for about 40 years, and nowhere is that climate potentially bleaker in the UK than the West Midlands.

Jaguar Land Rover employs about 13,000 people in this region, with vast numbers of other companies in the supply chain dependent on the group’s fortunes.

Unsurprisingly, the Tata-owned group is suffering, with Land Rover in particular buffeted by the chill winds of the early days of this recession.

The Lode Lane manufacturer suffered a sales fall of 64 per cent last month, the biggest decline since the downturn spread to the automotive sector.

The November fall followed two grim sales months in September and October, with turnover dropping by nearly 50 and 60 per cent respectively. Jaguar has fought back more robustly, largely because of the recent launch of the XF.

In reality, nobody knows where this trend will lead over here in the UK. Overseas markets are a potential goldmine for Land Rover, and the likes of China and Russia could yet reap huge dividends for the Solihull-based company.

But a glance at events across the Atlantic would suggest that Land Rover, Jaguar and every other car manufacturer worldwide faces a deeply uncertain future.

Appearing before Congress to plead for a Government bail-out of £23 billion, executives of General Motors, Chrysler and Toyota indicated they may not survive beyond the end of 2008 without Federal assistance.

Ford chief executive Alan Mulally - the man at the helm when Jaguar and Land Rover was sold to Tata – put the case to Congress succinctly.

The company’s failed mantra, he admitted, was “You build it, they will come.”

They’re not coming any more in the US – and that trend is being replicated in the UK. We can only hope that the latest interest rate cut attracts some degree of lost custom back to the showrooms.