What to look for in February car sales numbers

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Around noon today, the major car companies will begin to announce sales figures for February. They will be bad, but will they be below expectations? Analysts are expecting a tiny tick up from January.

According toEdmund's, which tracks auto sales by month, Chrysler's numbers will be down over 50 percent. Since it is the weakest major car company marketing vehicles in the U.S., it would be telling and positive if it can post a sales loss of less than half from the same period last year. The other two members of The Big Three are expected to lose 40 percent or more of their business.

The most revealing number will probably be sales from Toyota (TM), which is the strongest of the companies with significant market share in the U.S. Its reputation for quality and fuel-efficiency has helped it over the last decade. It is supposed to do better than the balance of the industry, with unit sales down over 38 percent for February.

If Toyota misses it numbers, it is a sign that U.S. vehicles sales may be heading into a period that is even worse than the market imagined.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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